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Sinn Fein's O'Neill predicts rapid talks as Nesbitt slams DUP's 'politics of fear'

By Noel McAdam

Negotiations following tomorrow's Assembly election will be "short and sharp", Sinn Fein predicted yesterday.

Despite fears the inter-party discussions might become bogged down for months, precipitating a return to Direct Rule, the party's Stormont leader, Michelle O'Neill, predicted the talks would be over quickly.

In a video message, Mrs O'Neill said: "This is the most important election since the Good Friday Agreement. The stakes are high.

"There will be a short, sharp negotiation after this election. It will be difficult, but progress is possible.

"Sinn Fein is the only party which can stand up to the bigotry and arrogance of the DUP.

"We don't need a new agreement, we need outstanding agreements implemented.

"We are asking you to give us the strongest possible hand for the negotiations."

In a written statement later, Mrs O'Neill added: "This election is not about orange and green issues or the politics of fear. It is about the future.

"It is about sending a clear message that we are not prepared to tolerate a massive financial scandal, which was created, controlled and covered up by the DUP."

DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted, however, that the election should not be a referendum on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme and warned it could become a catalyst for undermining the Union.

Her intervention came as the Ulster Unionists made a final attempt to dispel DUP warnings about Sinn Fein taking up the First Minister's post.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt said Mrs O'Neill could only become First Minister if the second largest party agreed to supply a Deputy First Minister.

He also pointed out that because the positions form a joint office, any "radical Sinn Fein agenda" could be vetoed.

"Arlene Foster is attempting to strike fear into the hearts of unionists over the prospect of Gerry Adams being able to implement his vision from the First Minister's office," Mr Nesbitt said. "She knows this cannot happen.

"We do not see it as possible that Sinn Fein could take the First Minister's office.

"Firstly, if the DUP and Sinn Fein were to switch places, Michelle O'Neill could only be First Minister if Arlene Foster agrees to be her deputy.

"Secondly, given the joint nature of the office, the DUP would have a veto over any Sinn Fein decision, so in this scenario the 'radical agenda' could only be implemented should the DUP consent.

"What does it say for the DUP's leadership if after 10 years in government their only election tactic remains to be the politics of fear?

"If Arlene Foster seriously believes we are in danger of a border poll being triggered, she can only point the finger of blame at herself."

The UUP attack came after DUP East Antrim candidate Gordon Lyons said: "The consequence of us not winning the election will be that Gerry Adams will be in a position to push his republican agenda for a border poll, to undermine the Union and to rewrite the past.

"It is clear from the mess over the budget and waiting lists that Sinn Fein have created that the only plan they have is for themselves and not for the people of Northern Ireland."

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