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United Ireland: Michelle O'Neill telling same old Sinn Fein story, blasts DUP's Frew

By David Young and Joanne Fleming

Michelle O'Neill has been accused of remaining wedded to the republican ideals of the past after expressing hope that Ireland will be reunified during her tenure as Sinn Fein's leader at Stormont.

She pledged to continue to work to convince people that they would be better off without a border. Her comments drew ridicule from the DUP.

Party election candidate Paul Frew said it was more of the "same republican priorities" from Sinn Fein's new leader in Northern Ireland.

Mrs O'Neill rejected the suggestion her party's desire to end partition meant it was not committed to making the power-sharing institutions work.

"We do believe in the Assembly," the Mid Ulster candidate said. "The (1998) Good Friday Agreement was hard-fought for, it was the alternative to conflict, so we believe in the institutions that were set up under the Good Friday Agreement and we believe in making them work.

"Obviously we want a united Ireland and that's not a secret, but we do want the institutions to work, and no one has worked harder than Martin McGuinness to make that happen over the past 10 year.

"We believe an Assembly is best-placed to deliver for health, education, right across all the departments in all of our public services. The Assembly was the only defence against Tory austerity.

"I think the Assembly is absolutely necessary. Direct rule, unionist rule, have all failed us in the past and will always fail us in the future. We do believe in the Assembly."

In recent discussions on what a united Ireland might look like, Sinn Fein has suggested the potential for retaining a devolved regional Assembly at Stormont linked to Dublin, not London.

"That's the conversation we need to have," said Mrs O'Neill.

She also said Brexit had given fresh momentum to the unity debate. "Clearly, more and more people are questioning the national question now because of the implications of Brexit.

"It is going to be catastrophic for the island of Ireland. It is detrimental and undermines the Good Friday Agreement. So, for those reasons, people are genuinely and urgently concerned about the implications."

On the prospect of reunification while she led the party here, she added: "I would love to see that. That's my job. Every day I try to bring that about, convince enough people that they would be better off in a united Ireland, and that the Ireland that we envisage is one that will be an agreed Ireland, it will be one that we all can plan for together."

Questioning her priorities, Mr Frew said: "Michelle O'Neill has been portrayed as a new face for Sinn Fein, but it is the same republican priorities that dominate her approach.

"Since being appointed by Gerry Adams we have heard nothing about Michelle O'Neill's vision for education, health or any of the real priorities for people's lives, but have heard instead about her desire to commemorate IRA terrorists and to agitate for a united Ireland."

The DUP candidate added: "Words now about the importance of the Assembly will mean little to people wanting action to tackle waiting lists whilst Sinn Fein prepare for negotiations in an attempt to advance their own narrow party interests."

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