Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May and Arlene Foster want to drag us out of Europe ... they can't be allowed to succeed

Sinn Fein doesn't seek a return to the status quo; it wants a step-change to open up the potential for progressive politics in the years ahead, writes Michelle O'Neill

Just three months ago, the people of the north sent a powerful message to the DUP and the British Government. The Assembly election saw the biggest voter turnout since the Good Friday Agreement. Sinn Fein received our highest-ever vote - almost 225,000 votes.

The people put their faith in our party in order to make a difference. They do not want a return to the status quo, or business as usual, at Stormont. They want a fundamental step-change and a competent government that will deliver.

The people showed in no uncertain terms that they stood with Martin McGuinness. They supported his decision to call time on the arrogance, on the disrespect and on serious allegations of DUP corruption.

They fundamentally changed the political landscape by ending the so-called permanent unionist majority, opening up new possibilities for progressive politics in the time ahead.

People do not want majorities, or minorities - they want equality and a government that treats citizens fairly and decently and protects, rather than denies, their rights. It was a genuinely historic and ground-breaking election.

Irish unity is now firmly on the agenda and rights and equality have been put centre-stage of the political process. Those are huge achievements. Your vote made a real difference and we must defend those achievements in the Westminster election on Thursday.

We have to continue the momentum for change, because the DUP and the British Government want to reverse it; to maintain the status quo. They want to ignore the stand you took, just as they are ignoring the result of the EU referendum last June.

The clear majority of people in the north voted to remain in Europe, but Theresa May and Arlene Foster are determined to drag us out of the EU against our will.

They can't be allowed to succeed, because Brexit will be a disaster for our economy. It will be a disaster for local business, for farmers and the wider agri-food industry, for the health service, for workers' rights and border communities.

Staying in the EU - a changed EU - is vital to our future prosperity. Sinn Fein is the only party to put forward a credible alternative to Brexit. An alternative which gives effect to your vote to remain.

We proposed that the north secures designated special status within the EU. It is a credible, realisable plan, but the case for it will not be won at Westminster. What makes anyone think the Tories will listen to a handful of MPs from the north, when they are already ignoring the majority of the population?

Sinn Fein is taking the battle against Brexit where it matters - across Ireland and throughout Europe. We have already secured support from the majority of the parties in the Dail for our proposals. Our all-Ireland team of MEPs is working to secure the same at the EU parliament.

We have been engaging with all the other member states and key figures, including the EU's chief negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier. That is how we will win the case for special status within the EU - by taking the fight to where our case will be listened to. Not to the green benches of Westminster to be ignored by a British Prime Minister, who has already dismissed the democratic wishes of the people here and in Scotland.

An enhanced mandate for Sinn Fein helps us to make - and win - that case. It also strengthens our hand in the coming negotiations to restore the power-sharing institutions on the basis set out by Martin McGuinness.

Just as they did three months ago, the people are demanding institutions which operate on the basis of equality, respect and integrity.

They haven't forgotten the RHI scandal, the sectarian decisions on Liofa, bands' funding and community halls. They haven't forgotten the broken and unimplemented agreements. They haven't forgotten that the DUP is the party of Nama and "dark money" from anonymous donors to support Brexit.

Those are the issues which compelled Martin McGuinness to tender his resignation. They need to be addressed and redressed.

That is what Sinn Fein is determined to do in the coming talks and, with your support, achieve what is required for a return to the power-sharing institutions and equal partnership government.

And, as the largest political party on this island, with a strong team in Belfast, Dublin, London and Brussels and across Ireland's 32 counties, we are the only party which is capable of doing that.

We have the opportunity to unite our people and unite our island. The opportunity to build a new, agreed, united Ireland with rights and equality for all.

Your vote is your voice, so make it count. The political stakes are high. What Sinn Fein wins in this election is a win for everyone who wants new, progressive politics, which is modern and inclusive.

We will continue to build bridges through dialogue and reconciliation between all our people. That is the future, which Sinn Fein is asking the people to endorse on June 8.

It is a progressive vision for a prosperous future within an agreed Ireland. This election is an opportunity to stand against borders, against Brexit and against cuts. It is your opportunity to stand for equality, for rights and for unity.

You created history three months ago. On Thursday, you can help create a new future.

Michelle O'Neill is northern leader of Sinn Fein

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