Outgoing Finance Minister insists choosing to sit outside the Executive would be an ‘act of self-harm’ by Donaldson’s party
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy has branded the DUP walking out of the Executive in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol as "futile".
He said it would be "inconceivable" if Sir Jeffrey Donaldson's party stood in the way of forming an Executive following next month’s Assembly election.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the outgoing Finance Minister also insisted that dealing with the cost of living crisis and aspirations of a border poll are "not incompatible", saying one "flows directly from the other".
Mr Murphy was asked if he agrees with party vice-president Michelle O'Neill, who said this week that people are not "waking up thinking of a border poll" and her "priorities right now" are issues like the cost of living crisis.
"People are capable of holding two thoughts in their head at once. The priorities today and tomorrow and on the fifth, sixth and seventh of May are going to be bills landing on people's doormats, and people want an Executive in place," he said.
"We have always been trying to operate in the Executive to the best of our ability. But, we also have to recognise that if we want to change the bigger context, if we want to be in control of our own affairs, instead of relying on whatever London might decide — they are not doing much in terms of cost of living intervention — we have to ask what is the constitutional framework for doing that?
"Is it devolving more powers and having a minimalist approach, or is it looking at the whole constitutional framework, seeing what has failed us over that last 100 years and is currently failing us, and what better future the people on this island can have together. So, the two things aren't incompatible at all, one directly flows from the other."
With all polls predicting Sinn Fein coming out on top in May's election, questions have been raised as to whether a unionist Deputy First Minister would serve under a republican First Minister, and also around the DUP's willingness to re-enter the Executive at all amid ongoing protests over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Murphy was asked about the potential situation post-election and whether now is the time to examine ending mandatory coalition at Stormont.
"First of all, mandatory coalition means that those who are entitled to be in the Executive are entitled to be in the Executive, it doesn't mean everybody has to be in the Executive, it's not compulsory coalition," he said.
"But, if the largest unionist party decides they don't want to be in the Executive, they can effectively stop everyone else forming an Executive and I think that's inconceivable.
"The DUP stopped participating in the north-south arrangements and prevented most of those from happening since last October, they've prevented the Executive from meeting for the last eight weeks.
"If they are intending on continuing that because they want to influence the protocol discussions — that protest is clearly having no influence on the protocol negotiations. It's a futile protest that is only harming the people we represent."
The Sinn Fein man said it would be an "act of self-harm" on behalf of the DUP if they chose to sit outside the Executive when there are issues that need to be dealt with around the budget, waiting lists and the cost of living crisis.
"We will be there on day one, ready to form an Executive, if the electorate give us enough votes to be able to be part of that, and all of the other parties should be there,” he added.
"The Executive worked best, even with all of the difficulties, over the last two years with the pandemic, when it was working together. It was able to deliver support for people, it was able to try and make an intervention to help the economy to help families who were struggling.”
Mr Murphy was asked if he recognises that many would find it unpalatable for Northern Ireland to have a Sinn Fein First Minister, given the party's connection to the IRA and the fact that Sinn Fein still holds IRA commemorations.
"We all fight the election on the same basis. It's the Good Friday Agreement, it set a democratic test: one, you have to get the electorate to approve you, and secondly, you join the institutions on the same basis as everyone else," he said.
"We have operated the arrangements faithfully and served as Deputy First Minister on-and-off since 2007. The DUP have the same democratic test as we have, we have met it in the past and are ready to meet it in the future."
Sinn Fein previously voiced its support for cutting corporation tax for big businesses, despite such a move meaning hundreds of millions of pounds lost to Stormont’s budget. The Finance Minister was asked if this is still the party's stance.
"In the here and now I don't consider [cutting corporation tax] to be affordable, because what would happen is, if we cut corporation tax by a certain amount, the British Government would just take it from our block grant and we would have to try and hope we have a generation of income from companies," he said. "In the longer term we would want to see a harmonisation across the island and level playing field in terms of how we do business, but we must also recognise that there are immediate affordability issues."