Belfast Telegraph

There will not be an Assemby without a step change by DUP

By John O'Dowd

Public confidence in the political institutions in the north was undermined by a series of financial scandals associated with the DUP and the refusal by the British Government and the DUP to honour agreements.

The DUP's RHI scandal and the allegations of corruption associated with the scheme are set to be investigated at the public inquiry under Judge Patrick Coghlin and a commission of investigation in the Dail into the sale of Nama's Project Eagle property portfolio is to be established.

When Martin McGuinness resigned, he said there could be no return to the status quo.

Sinn Fein has contested two elections since Martin McGuinness brought an end to the DUP's arrogance and contempt for whole sections of our community.

In those elections, Sinn Fein was mandated in greater numbers than ever before to enter talks with the two governments and the other parties to have the Executive up and running on the basis of equality, respect and rights, delivering for all citizens and discriminating against none.

We entered talks immediately after the Assembly election with the clear objective of securing the implementation of previous agreements on the Irish language, on rights and on legacy.

There was no meaningful engagement from either the British Government or the DUP.

Those talks collapsed when the DUP failed to turn up for discussions and a second phase of talks was suspended when the Tory Government called an election in a self-serving attempt to consolidate its position.

A new deadline was set for the conclusion of talks on the north three weeks after the Westminster election.

When the election disastrously backfired on the Tories, those talks were effectively sidelined for more than two weeks as the Tories scrambled to get a deal with the DUP in a desperate bid to hold on to power.

The price of that deal was revealed last week, with DUP support for a Tory Brexit against the democratic wishes of the people of the north and for continued Tory austerity and cuts to public services.

The British Government have never been neutral brokers in negotiations, they are players, but the DUP/Tory deal is clearly in breach of the commitments given by the two government in the Good Friday Agreement to "rigorous impartiality".

The first victims of the DUP/Tory deal were emergency and public service workers when the DUP voted for an effective cut in their pay. These workers included firefighters hailed as heroes only two weeks ago as they fought the blaze at Grenfell Tower, which left at least 80 people dead.

The DUP's second act was to vote for more Tory austerity cuts in the Queen's Speech and to support a Tory Brexit against the wishes of the people of the north, which will be disastrous for our economy.

The DUP's new alliance with the Tories has emboldened it in its opposition to equality and a rights-based society in the talks to restore the political institutions.

After weeks of negotiation the DUP is showing no urgency about dealing with the equality and rights issues, which caused the collapse of the political institutions.

It is highly unlikely that this can be done by tomorrow.

There is no agreement on Acht na Gaeilge, the Bill of Rights, marriage equality, respect, anti-sectarian measures or legacy issues.

Sinn Fein is not prepared to accept anything less than full equality and the rights and entitlements that all citizens in this state should rightly expect.

Citizens in the north should enjoy the rights on language and marriage equality which are enjoyed everywhere else on these islands.

Equality, rights and respect are the only basis for sustainable institutions.

And these are not just Sinn Fein demands. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Belfast on Saturday to demand marriage equality.

Like the Irish language community, women, and those who have made Ireland their home in recent years, our LGBT community will not be denied.

For our part, Sinn Fein wants to see the establishment of political institutions based on equality, delivering for everyone in the community.

This will only be achieved if there is a step change in the DUP position.

John O'Dowd is Sinn Fein MLA for Upper Bann

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