Belfast Telegraph

DUP must accept a society based on rights if it wants Stormont back, insists O'Neill

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein Northern leader Michelle O'Neill has warned the DUP that if it wants a return to Stormont it must "embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government".

She was speaking at the opening session of the party's ard fheis in Dublin last night.

Gerry Adams will announce tonight when he is stepping down as Sinn Fein president.

Mrs O'Neill said: "If the DUP wish to exercise political power in government in the North of Ireland now or in the future, then the cost is to embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government, which works for everyone. 

"This would pave the way for the Executive to be restored. The people voted for the implementation of previous political agreements, they voted for the values of the Good Friday Agreement, and they voted for a step change and no return to the status quo."

She insisted Sinn Fein remained committed to restoring the Stormont Assembly and Executive.

"However, they only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve. As Martin McGuinness said, there is no going back to the status quo," she added. 

Mrs O'Neill said Sinn Fein was committed to tackling sectarianism and building a just and fair society based on equality and respect.

"A key challenge for us all is to confront sectarianism and the causes which segregate our communities still, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement," she said.

"The DUP's denial of rights for all citizens, and the failure to fully implement previous political agreements, the contempt shown for Irish national identity and culture, combined with the RHI scandal to tip us into the ongoing political crisis. 

"These rights include marriage equality, language rights, a Bill of Rights and the rights to an inquest in legacy cases. An Irish Language Act has both practical and symbolic importance in recognising and respecting Irish national identity." 

She maintained Sinn Fein had "invested heavily" in the peace process. "I want to lead Sinn Fein back into a new Executive, which represents genuine equal partnership government," she said.

"For over 10 months Sinn Fein has sought to resolve these issues through dialogue and political negotiations with the DUP and both Governments.

"However, despite our best endeavours the discussions were unsuccessful. 

"In large part this was pre-determined by the Conservative Party's pact with the DUP to keep them in government."

Meanwhile, Mrs O'Neill has insisted that Sinn Fein doesn't favour the extension of the 1967 British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

But she disclosed that she would support an ard chomhairle motion liberalising her party's position to allow for abortion where there is a serious risk to a woman's mental and physical health, as well as in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and rape and incest.

There are eight motions on abortion on the agenda for debate at the ard fheis tomorrow.

Former Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay said the new policy would be "broadly in line" with the 1967 British Abortion Act.

But Mrs O'Neill told the Irish News there was "a big difference" between her party's proposed new policy and the British legislation.

Sinn Fein "isn't in favour of abortion" and when this was explained to people they would understand the policy change, she said.

"I believe it's practical, it's reasonable - it is just a restatement of our current policy with additional features," she insisted.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald is widely seen as Mr Adams' heir apparent with high-profile Donegal TD Pearse Doherty ruling himself out of a leadership challenge and Mrs O'Neill following suit yesterday.

The party is today expected to pass a resolution allowing it to be a junior coalition partner in a future Irish Government. Ms McDonald last night told delegates it wouldn't do so "just to make up the numbers".

Sinn Fein would deliver a "progressive republican programme for government", implement "radical policies" and challenge the status quo.

"We have had a succession of corrupt 'me fein' governments serving the interests of an inherently corrupt elite," she said. "What we need, for the first time in this State, is a government for the people."

Belfast Telegraph

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