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Michelle O'Neill: 'DUP arrogance has failed - there is no alternative to respect and equality'

The DUP have not lived up to the basic tenets of good governance, says Michelle O'Neill. Agreements must be honoured by all sides.

The election on March 2 has the potential to be a defining moment in our peace and political process. Over the past 10 years, despite the valiant efforts of Martin McGuinness, the potential of our peace has been slowly and deliberately strangled by the DUP. But now we have an opportunity to rebuild the political institutions; to return them to the core values of the Good Friday Agreement on which they were founded.

That is what was endorsed by the people north and south in referenda almost 20 years ago. That is what helped bring to an end decades of conflict, discrimination, division and inequality.

The institutions provided a peaceful and democratic process for constitutional change, for reconciliation and for equality. They are part of the peace process. They do not operate like the Dail, Westminster, Edinburgh, or Cardiff.

Sinn Fein entered the Executive on the basis of our mandate. We took our seats and, since 2007, have jointly led the Executive under Martin McGuinness, because we believe in power-sharing, we believe in equality and because we honour our agreements. We were in the Executive because we wanted to be there and we wanted the institutions to work.

No individual has done more than Martin McGuinness to work for all the people, to promote equality and reconciliation and at a huge personal cost. He acted with patience and generosity. The actions of the DUP under the watch of the British and Irish governments rendered the institutions untenable and Martin McGuinness acted.

This was nothing to do with Gerry Adams and all to do with the arrogance and disrespect of the DUP. It's about RHI and other financial scandals. RHI is a scandal which is symptomatic of the DUP's approach to power. They failed to live up to the central tenets of good governance and power-sharing - integrity, respect and equality.

The DUP were in the institutions because they had to be. They had no alternative and no vision beyond a unionist state. Rather than embracing diversity and parity of esteem, the DUP chose to mock and pillory the Irish language and identity. When people across the community were demanding humility, respect and action on RHI, the DUP responded with a sectarian decision to axe a bursary scheme for disadvantaged children attending the Gaeltacht.

The rights of Irish speakers to a language act agreed at St Andrews were dismissed and those making the demand likened to crocodiles.

The DUP blocked marriage equality and repeatedly descended into racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes and actions. They stood with the Tories on Brexit and against the majority of the people and against the interests of the economy. They have refused to identify the secret donor of hundreds of thousands of pounds for their Brexit campaign. And their mishandling of the RHI scandal and the allegations of corruption associated with the scheme is what ultimately brought the institutions down.

This is not an Orange and Green issue. The cost of scandals will be paid by a generation of our citizens and impact on the public services of all. This is an issue of integrity. No government can expect to work without integrity. No administration can expect to enjoy public confidence and support if it isn't underpinned by honesty and equality.

Sinn Fein has made it clear that we will not accept Arlene Foster back in office until the RHI inquiry has reported. We have told the British and Irish governments that there must be fundamental change if there is to be any return to the institutions.

The DUP promised a brutal campaign and from the outset have sought to sectarianise the election, to make it an issue of who would be First Minister - despite the fact there will be no First Minister without the support of Sinn Fein.

They want the election to be about the past. They want the election to be about anything other than the waste that is RHI, or the arrogance and contempt displayed to citizens.

This election and the negotiations which follow are about the future. They are about rebuilding the political process and institutions operating with integrity and based on equality and respect. Genuine progressive power-sharing working in the best interests of all in society.

The UUP and SDLP have attempted to present themselves as some alternative. There can be no alternative to respect and equality. There is no alternative to power-sharing and the Good Friday Agreement.

After nine years, these parties stepped out of the Executive and away from the agreement and entered Opposition. They have yet to make it clear if they will return to the Executive, or hide in Opposition.

If we get the votes and if the Executive is re-established, Sinn Fein will take our ministerial positions in line with the Good Friday Agreement and power-sharing.

Unionist one-party rule failed, direct rule failed, arrogance has failed. Power-sharing based on equality, respect and integrity is the way forward.

All of the parties and the people want the institutions up, running and delivering for all. They cannot operate on the dictate of a single party, but on the basis of the agreements. An agreement made must be an agreement implemented. We are not going into renegotiate agreements that already have been made. We are seeking to secure their full implementation.

This should not be a long process. The question to all parties and both governments is simple: will you fully implement all agreements? That is what I am about. That is what Sinn Fein is about.

We are moving forward to a society where there is zero tolerance of racism, sectarianism and homophobia. A society where your identities are embraced and celebrated. A society whose place in Europe is secured. We are about a new way of working within the institutions, ensuring they deliver for all our people and that they operate with equality and respect. So, what we win in the time ahead, we win for all.

That is what I am asking the public to endorse when they go to the polls on March 2.

Michelle O'Neill is leader of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland. She has been an MLA for Mid-Ulster since 2007

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