Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: Executive could be in place quickly, it wouldn't take much for that to happen

By Michelle O'Neill

Are all parties ready for rights for all? The Twelfth has passed relatively peacefully and that is a good thing. Hopefully it paves the way for a more constructive atmosphere when the negotiations to restore the Executive resume.

But some of the Eleventh Night bonfires - and the racism and sectarianism surrounding them - were an ugly reminder of the kind of difficulties we are still facing.

So when the parties do get back round the table, we all face a choice.

Do we want the kind of society where such blatant manifestations of hate and prejudice are tolerated and even celebrated?

Or do we want a rights-based society where all are welcome. Where all cultures, creeds and allegiances are respected and traditions practised respectfully and responsibly. A society where all citizens are treated equally, regardless of the language they speak or the person they love.

No one can be in any doubt as to where Sinn Fein stands on the issue of a rights-based society. We have been abundantly clear from the day that Martin McGuinness resigned that any new Executive needs to be on the basis of equality, respect and integrity because that represents the implementation of what has previously been agreed. Anything less is doomed to failure.

I have no reason to doubt that the majority of the other parties also feel the same way. Certainly, throughout the talks the SDLP and Alliance Party have consistently demonstrated their view that rights must be respected by a new Executive if it is to be credible and command public confidence.

Both unionist parties, I believe, also know they're on the wrong side of the argument - and history - when it comes to issues like equal marriage.

So when the talks resume, the question will be whether all those parties are in a position to embrace the kind of progressive politics which the wider public are demanding.

Will the DUP show leadership and stand up to the rejectionists, rather than being cowed by them?

Will their partners in the Tory party hold them to account for the failure to implement previous agreements?

Will the Irish Government assert itself as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and demand its implementation?

Will the SDLP 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?

They need to ask themselves if an Executive on the DUP's terms is better than no Executive.

Are some rights less valuable than others?

All these questions remain unanswered but Sinn Fein are certainly hopeful that we can find the right answers when the negotiations resume.

None of the obstacles we face are insurmountable.

We have faced much greater challenges in the past and it is entirely possible to have an Executive in place that is getting on with the business of delivering public services within a very short space of time.

That is what people want to see. It is what Sinn Fein wants to see and it is what is required in the current climate where we are facing the twin challenges of Brexit and unrelenting Tory austerity.

And it doesn't take much to make it happen. A commitment to basic rights and the implementation of what has already been agreed is hardly a radical shopping list.

We are talking about the kind of things that are taken for granted everywhere else on the islands. They should be taken for granted here also. Someone who lives in Belfast should be no less entitled to rights than someone who lives in Dublin, London, Cardiff or Edinburgh.

That shouldn't be a difficult concept for political parties to grasp. And it isn't a difficult thing to implement.

We will see in September whether all parties are now prepared to do what needs to be done.

  • Michelle O'Neill is Sinn Fein leader at Stormont

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