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Sinn Fein can do business with DUP after the election, says Michelle O'Neill


Michelle O’Neill knew well in advance that she would succeed Martin McGuinness

Michelle O’Neill knew well in advance that she would succeed Martin McGuinness

Michelle O’Neill knew well in advance that she would succeed Martin McGuinness

Sinn Fein has indicated that it will be able to work with DUP leader Arlene Foster after the Assembly election.

The party's leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, said that republicans wouldn't be setting any pre-conditions on entering negotiations with the DUP in five weeks' time.

The move holds out the possibility that, despite current hostilities, the two parties may well be able to do business after Northern Ireland goes to the polls on March 2.

Ms O'Neill was speaking as she prepared to attend today's Joint Ministerial Committee, with the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies in Cardiff, which will be chaired by British Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Relations between Sinn Fein and its former coalition partner had deteriorated so badly in recent times that some observers believed the two parties could never again work together while Mrs Foster remained DUP leader.

However, in an interview with the Sunday Business Post, Ms O'Neill ruled out setting preconditions for entering post-election talks with the DUP.

"We have delivered Arlene Foster standing aside in terms of forcing the election by Martin McGuinness's resignation," she said. But she warned: "We will only have meaningful talks if there is real intent on behalf of the DUP."

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She repeated that her party wouldn't tolerate "arrogance" and would seek equality, respect and parity of esteem.

Ms O'Neill also revealed that there was nothing surprising about her appointment as party leader and that she had known that she was destined for the job for a considerable time.

"Both Gerry and Martin told me that I was going to be the new leader. They would have talked to me about it over the past few months," she said.

Her remarks confirm reports that her leadership is a coronation by the upper echelons rather than as a result of a democratic decision-making process in the wider party.

But Ms O'Neill dismissed allegations by the DUP that she was simply Gerry Adams's puppet as "pettiness" by that party.

She said that she "absolutely can" take decisions even if Mr Adams disagrees with them, but she stressed her party's collective leadership approach.

"I am still part of Gerry's team. He still is our president so we will be working very closely," she said.

Responding to unionist criticism that she hasn't condemned the IRA and that she had acknowledged only republican victims of the Troubles, Ms O'Neill said: "I can clearly say that I regret the conflict happened, that there were losses on all sides.

"I grew up in a small village that suffered on all sides. I don't believe in a hierarchy of victims."

Meanwhile, in a statement yesterday, Ms O'Neill accused the Government of trying to impose Brexit "against the will of people in the north and (in) Scotland".

She said: "I look forward to meeting with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones to discuss possible joint approaches to Brexit.

"I will lay out the reasonable and achievable objective of the north being designated special status within the EU. I will again be raising with Theresa May the democratic imperative to respect the vote in the north to remain in the EU, the impact of Brexit, and the undermining of the agreements and political institutions by the Tory government."

However, Mrs May last night made it clear that the devolved administrations wouldn't be given a decisive role in the UK's departure from the EU.

The Prime Minister said she hoped that today's meeting would be constructive but warned there wouldn't be agreement "on everything".

She stressed that the Supreme Court ruling on triggering Article 50 had set out "beyond doubt" that relations with Brussels would be determined by her government and Parliament.

Mrs May said: "The UK voted to leave the EU, and the UK government has a responsibility to deliver on that mandate and secure the right deal for the whole of the UK."

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned Mrs May that she must take proposals from the devolved administrations seriously.

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