Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: 'We're still committed to talks that will resolve all outstanding issues'

By Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein is fully committed to getting workable political institutions and a fresh Executive up and running which can deliver for everyone in our society on the basis of equality, respect and integrity.

Public confidence in Stormont has been severely undermined as a result of the revelations around the DUP's handling of the RHI scheme which has put at risk taxpayers' money.

The potential net loss of £500m would seriously hamper the Executive's spending power in frontline public services across our health and education services.

Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned not as a first choice, but as a last resort and to call time on the arrogance, disrespect and contempt of the DUP towards Sinn Fein as their partners in government and the public.

We went to the polls to allow the people to have their say and the message is clear.

The people want accountable and competent government which puts the public interest first and treats all citizens fairly and decently.

Sinn Fein received a huge mandate to enter political talks in order to secure the full implementation of previous agreements.

We do not want minorities or majorities - we want equality and rights for all.

Our negotiators entered these talks in good faith and with the political will to make a difference for everyone.

We want to achieve the full implementation of all outstanding commitments made over a 20-year period in order to allow us all to face the future together.

Others, however, did not and acted as obstacles to progress.

The British government is no independent broker in this process. They too have a responsibility to deliver on their commitments to help move society forward. The British government and the DUP have thus far adopted quite a minimalist political approach to the key issues of implementing outstanding commitments on legacy issues, an Irish Language Act and a Bill of Rights.

A power-sharing coalition can only be formed which operates on the basis of equal partnership government.

There is a special responsibility on the First and Deputy First Ministers to represent both the nationalist and unionist communities bridging the divide between us, acting on behalf of everyone together as co-equals.

Martin McGuinness made it clear that there can be no return to the status quo at Stormont - and it was overwhelmingly endorsed by the electorate.

This remains our firm position.

In recent days the Sinn Fein negotiating team remained at Stormont Castle, committed to push ahead with an open hand to all quarters in order to make progress.

We were there on Sunday with the British government, the Irish government and other parties. However, the DUP were unfortunately not available and it was clear that the talks to this point had run its course.

Sinn Fein is absolutely committed to re-engaging with the parties in the coming days.

We have an opportunity to open up a new era of politics. Peace was declared in 1998, yet there remains unfinished business.

We now need the necessary political leadership from the DUP and British government to get the job done and allow our society to move towards a more prosperous and progressive future.

The time is now to finally implement the unfinished business.

Sinn Fein has made it clear that all of the outstanding issues can be resolved.

We have no objection to the British Secretary of State leaving some time for that to be done but we are totally opposed to - and we would look to the Irish government to oppose - any new legislation to bring back Direct Rule.

There is only one option which the British Secretary of State is entitled to take and that is to call an election.

There is no legal basis for any other course of action. And while parties may or may not want an election the fact is if the British Secretary of State brings in new legislation to restore Direct Rule that will be an act of bad faith and a clear breach of an agreement between the Irish and British governments in 2006.

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