Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein Michelle O'Neill's full statement

Newly announced Sinn Fein party leader in the north Michelle O'Neill has said Sinn Féin are committed to equality, respect and integrity.

"When I was growing up in Tyrone as a teenager, if anyone had ever had said that I would be leading our party in the north at some stage in the future I wouldn’t have believed them.

Being a republican is a way of life, each and everyone of you standing here today know that. You are all committed republican activists and work every day to deliver on the ideals of the proclamation for all the people who share this island.

For me to be selected to lead our party in the north is truly the biggest honour and privilege of my life. I feel an enormous responsibility on my shoulders – and while I don't underestimate my task in a changing political world locally, nationally and internationally – I will not let you down.

I have learnt only from the best – my late father and former Sinn Féin Councillor, Brendan Doris, MP Francie Molloy and of course Martin McGuinness.

I have worked with Martin throughout my adult life, as an activist, as a councillor, an MLA and as a Minister.

I have no doubt that I am following in the footsteps of a political giant. And it's not just republicans that think that, as we have witnessed over the course of the last few weeks. 

It's been my privilege to work so closely with Martin over the last 10 years, to always learn from him and be inspired by him. How he conducts himself in all situations is a lesson to us all.  How he reached out and broke down barriers is a testament to the genuine nature of the man that he is.

We want to sincerely thank Martin for the selfless service you have given to the people of Ireland.  And I know you’re not finished yet.

No one can replace Martin. But what I can do is continue his good work to unite our people and to unite our country.  We will continue to reach out, to promote equality and reconciliation and to show positive leadership.

These are challenging times and we have set ourselves big objectives but republicans have never been afraid of challenge.

I've never been afraid of challenge and never been afraid to act.

As the Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, I decentralised an entire government department – lock stock and barrel – when the system told me it couldn't be done.

As the Sinn Féin Minister for Health, I ended the DUP's discrimination against gay men donating blood.

Because it was the right thing to do.

Over the course of the last number of weeks, while others shouted from the sidelines it was Sinn Féin that stood up and confronted corruption.  It was Sinn Féin that called a halt to the arrogance and the intolerance of the DUP. 

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal was created by the former First Minister when she was in the Economy Department.

Her refusal to step aside shows a total disregard for the concerns and outrage of the public.

Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister not as a first choice, but as a last resort. Again, it was the right thing to do.

Arrogance and disrespect has no place in society. Financial scandal, incompetence or waste of public money cannot be tolerated.

In the aftermath of the election, there can and will be no return to the status quo.

And what does that mean. 

It means Sinn Féin are only interested in participating in the power sharing institutions if they deliver for all of our citizens and operate on the basis of equality and respect.

Agreements made must be honoured.

Commitments given must be delivered.

Partnership government must mean exactly that.

It means that regardless of where you come from, what language you speak, what your sexuality is, what gender you are – that you are treated with respect.

I am very proud to be leading Sinn Féin into this election on March 2nd – an election which is about citizens making a stand.

We are standing up for ourselves, for our neighbours and for our communities.

The principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement, which is the foundation stone of the peace process must be honoured.

Nineteen years ago the vast majority of people North and South endorsed the historic Good Friday Agreement.  The Good Friday Agreement and all subsequent political agreements must now be fully implemented – not renegotiated. 

Commitments must be delivered and it is the duty of both the Irish and British Governments to fulfil their part.

We cannot allow the British Government’s withdrawal from the European Union to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, the protections and safeguards within it, or the principle of consent either.

The North being forced to leave the EU against the expressed wishes of our people who voted to remain represents a major set-back. 

The British Government is on a collision course with the EU in which our economy and peace agreements are regarded as collateral damage.

We must defend the democratic mandate of the people to remain within the EU, through designated special status, which can secure the position of the entire island of Ireland within the European Union together.

There is an onus on the Irish Government who will be at negotiating table to act in the national interests.

Therefore, Sinn Fein is seeking in this election a stronger mandate to enter forthcoming political negotiations come March to defend your interests and put firmly the people’s social, economic and political interests first.

This a time for active citizenship, for democratically and peacefully asserting our rights.

There is no more important time for republican politics and core republican values, which promote Equality, Liberty, Fraternity.

What we are seeking is reasonable.

What we are seeking is not just for republicans and nationalists.

What we win in this election and achieve in coming negotiations, we will win for all.

What we are seeking is respect and equality for all of the people.

And what we are seeking is integrity in the political institutions. 

That is what Martin McGuinness stands for.

That is what Sinn Fein stands for.

That is what I stand for."

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