Belfast Telegraph

Martin McGuinness' resignation right thing to do, says Michelle O'Neill two years on from Stormont collapse

Mr McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in January 2017 in protest at the handling of the RHI scheme (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Mr McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister in January 2017 in protest at the handling of the RHI scheme (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

Martin McGuinness' resignation as deputy first minister two years ago was "the right thing to do" despite Northern Ireland entering its third year of Stormont stalemate, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill has said.

Mr McGuinness' resignation on January 9 2017 collapsed the Stormont Executive.

Multiple attempts to reestablish the devolved institutions have failed with no sign of talks being restarted in the immediate future.

Mr McGuinness resigned from office in protest over the DUP's handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) which exposed the Northern Ireland taxpayer to a huge overspend and led to a public inquiry.

In a statement on Tuesday Ms O'Neill said the former Provisional IRA leader, who died on March 21 2017 at the age of 66, "called time" on the Assembly because of a "lack of integrity" which had made Stormont "unsustainable".

"It was a heart-breaking yet inspiring day that I don’t think any of us will forget when a clearly gravely-ill Martin faced the cameras to declare that there will be no return to the status quo," she said.

Michelle O’Neill

Martin resigned as a last resort and he did so with a heavy heart. But he knew it was the right thing to do in order to fix what was broken. Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill

"That is as true today as it was then. The public deserve to have a functioning government they can have confidence in. A government that guarantees citizens rights and operates on the basis of transparency and integrity."

Ms O'Neill said that even though her party is still at loggerheads with the DUP over marriage equality, an Irish Language Act and Brexit, she believed there is "hope for optimism" that Stormont can be restored.

She added: "The most frustrating thing about the last two years is that all these issues can and should have been addressed long before now.

"The fact they haven’t been is due to the ongoing refusal of the DUP to face the reality that they are on the wrong side of the popular and political will on the issues of rights, equality and Brexit."

UUP leader Robin Swann MLA said the second anniversary of Stormont's collapse "marks two wasted years with a total abdication of political responsibility by both Sinn Fein and the DUP".

Robin Swann

He added: “The only way to get this place up and running again is for five party talks to take place. For the negotiations surrounding the Belfast Agreement, parties were invited to take part.

"Those who wanted to be involved, were involved and those who didn't, self-excluded. The Secretary of State knows what needs to happen and she should have done something about it by now."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he hoped the sheer length of the political vacuum would focus minds and encourage the start of a talks process.

“The impact of the political vacuum over the last two years has been well documented," he said.

"The freezing of the legislative and decision making process has meant that the North is being left behind.

"All of our public services are suffering because we have no government. Our health service is in urgent need of intervention, our schools are starved of funds and our economy is barely growing at all.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long

Alliance leader Naomi Long called on Karen Bradley to "inject some urgency into talks" to get devolution up and running again.

"We need devolution functioning with a focus on resolving not just the current political disputes, but also the massive challenges facing our public services and hitting our constituents hard," she said.

"Continuing with this malaise is just not sustainable."

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