Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill faces backlash from SDLP and UUP leaders over swipes in Belfast Telegraph article

By Noel McAdam

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has hit back at Michelle O'Neill's attack on the party - insisting respect is a two-way street.

Mr Swann said: "Perhaps she should consider how her own attendance at an IRA commemoration contributes to the divisions and difficulties we still face."

The SDLP also hit out at O'Neill's claims that the party seemed prepared to get an Executive restored "at any price".

Colum Eastwood's party claimed that Sinn Fein had not wanted to talk about real equality issues such as affordable childcare, homelessness and an anti-poverty strategy.

In an article for the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, Sinn Fein's Stormont chief echoed a phrase by former Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt who warned the party could be on the wrong side of history in opposing same-sex marriage.

Mrs O'Neill said the SDLP and Alliance Party had consistently demonstrated that rights must be respected by a new Executive, but both the UUP and DUP "also know they're on the wrong side of the argument - and history - when it comes to issues like equal marriage."

There was no response from the DUP but Mr Swann said: "It is well known that same-sex marriage is a matter of conscience for the UUP, with members free to vote as they wish. Minds would be better focused on forming an Executive than politicising issues.

"Sinn Fein cannot act as though they are without blame for the current political stalemate."

Mrs O'Neill also went on to challenge the SDLP, asking: "Will they stand firm on key rights issues because some of the commentary from their spokespeople over recent weeks would suggest they are prepared to get an Executive at any price."

An SDLP statement hit back saying: "The SDLP has submitted paper after paper throughout the talks process aimed at closing the gaps on the most contentious challenges to the restoration of devolution.

"The choice on offer is not an Executive on DUP terms or no Executive. We all have it in our power to form a progressive, inclusive Executive. That's the end prize, and that's what we're working for."

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