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Government must get cracking to restore Stormont: McDonald

Secretary of State Julian Smith
Secretary of State Julian Smith
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

By Aoife Moore

Sinn Fein has said the Government needs to "get real" with the DUP after meeting Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith.

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Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald and MLA Conor Murphy met Mr Smith in Dublin where he held meetings with political figures on issues around Brexit and the power-sharing impasse at Stormont.

Ms McDonald criticised the confidence and supply arrangement between the Conservatives and the DUP. She said it has hindered the Tories' ability to negotiate neutrally with the DUP, and that they seek to "placate" the party rather than hold meaningful talks on restoring a government in Northern Ireland.

"Julian Smith says the Prime Minister wants to have power-sharing restored, and if that's the case then they need to get cracking and need to get real," Ms McDonald said.

"They say that it (restoring power-sharing) is priority, but you would imagine if something is a priority they would move heaven and earth to make it happen, and we're certainly not convinced that the British Government have carried the load or used their influence with the DUP to ensure that solutions are delivered.

"This is the frustrating thing."

Stormont has been in cold storage for more than two-and-half-years due to a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP on issues such as Irish language legislation and a ban on same-sex marriage.

Hopes for a new set of talks were sparked following the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee in April, but Ms McDonald said that although talks are ongoing, nothing substantial is expected any time soon.

"We still are in a situation where the DUP are not demonstrating the necessary appetite to embrace solutions to issues to get the assembly back up and running, and neither are the British Government in terms of restoring power-sharing or indeed agreeing or embracing the (Brexit) backstop to protect the island of Ireland," she added.

"Not being unkind to the man (Mr Smith), the reality is that any British secretary of state or Tory coming here... they don't have the same skin in the game in terms of Irish interests that other people who have been elected here have."

Ms McDonald said some points were discussed with Mr Smith, but these did not include whether or not the DUP would accept a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

Sinn Fein said it is looking at any upcoming general election at Westminster as "an opportunity for all of us to show that Northern Ireland voted to remain".

Ms McDonald did not rule out having the party stand aside in the hotly contested South Belfast seat in order to enable another pro-remain candidate to take a greater share of the vote against the incumbent DUP MP.

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