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Michelle O’Neill: I will be a bridge builder but we need partners who will do the same

By Michelle O’Neill

Last week's election was a watershed moment in Irish politics. The electorate understood the importance of this election and took the opportunity to have their say.

We rallied the people to get behind us to stand up against the toxic culture of DUP incompetence, against corruption and arrogance in Government, and against Brexit.

We stood on a platform for equality and for integrity in these political institutions, which must represent and deliver for everyone.

And the people responded to our call. The people have had their say and made their views clear. We won the support of over 224,000 people across the north, the largest mandate ever received by a nationalist party in the history of the state.

The unionist majority in the Assembly is gone and the notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished.

There is a responsibility on the two governments and all the parties to reflect on this.

So we have been given a very strong mandate to enter negotiations from today. And, we must now make a difference.

Nineteen years on from the Good Friday Agreement there remains unfinished business. We have yet to see full implementation of the Good Friday and subsequent agreements.

Martin McGuinness and republicans have stretched ourselves to the limit in order to achieve progress and make the institutions work.

We have stepped out of our political comfort zones time and again.

We have gone with an open hand to our unionist neighbours in order to build the peace - because it is the right thing to do.

I will continue this important work, because I too will be a bridge builder.

But we need unionist partners who understand that they must now live up to the standards Martin set in public office, who live up to their responsibilities and duty to act on behalf of all, who will also be bridge builders - not just lawfully, but willingly and who do equal partnership.

The people have had their say and the message is very clear.

They don't want minorities or majorities - they want equality. They want to see agreements implemented. They want progressive change.

Political unionism must now live up to its responsibility to share power on the basis of equality, to demonstrate respect and to act with integrity in government.

We need an Executive that delivers and that treats citizens fairly and decently.

Everyone in our society - nationalist and unionist, women, Irish speakers, ethnic communities and the LGBT community all deserve respect and equality.

Now that the election is over it is time to deliver. From today we will start meeting with the other parties and the two governments and tell how we see it and what it'll take to fix it.

We will confront the two governments who have shamefully undermined and failed in their duty to protect, nurture and develop the Good Friday Agreement - the cornerstone of the peace process itself.

But if the recent statements by both James Brokenshire and Theresa May are to be taken at face value, it would seem that the British government is determined to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The approach of James Brokenshire and the British government is part of the problem.

Without a fundamental change in the approach of the British government, there can be no progress.

The Irish government, too, has a critical role to play as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and the Taoiseach needs to fulfil his duty and to challenge the British government on its failures.

It is in our strategic interests to have power sharing restored, but only on the correct basis.

Sinn Fein has demonstrated our patience and generosity, we want the institutions up and running on the basis of equality and respect, and for the outstanding agreements to be implemented in full.

We demand respect for Irish national identity of citizens.

This is not the sole responsibility of Sinn Fein or the parties in the Assembly.

There is a responsibility on the two governments to come to the table with a plan to honour and implement all agreements.

If progress is to be made then it is now time to hear from both the British and Irish governments that they will oversee the full implementation of all agreements. Nothing less is acceptable.

To date they have failed to do this.

There is a role for everyone to play in these talks.

We will enter talks in a positive and constructive manner. It is up to others to do the same.

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