Sinn Fein says return of power-sharing 'possible'
Michelle O'Neill has said a comprehensive deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein to restore power-sharing is possible.
With bilateral talks due to begin in Stormont tomorrow, Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader said she hoped other parties and the two governments had the political will to deliver an agreement that deals "with the issues and puts sustainable, genuine power-sharing institutions in place".
Ms O'Neill yesterday revealed that former Sinn Fein vice-president Pat Doherty would be her election agent in her campaign for the party's deputy leadership.
With Mary Lou McDonald Sinn Fein's president-elect, the two most senior positions in the party are likely to be held by women. But unionists yesterday said the gender of the party's leaders was irrelevant.
Upper Bann UUP MLA Doug Beattie said: "I wish Mary Lou McDonald well and the same to Michelle O'Neill if she becomes the deputy. But it won't make any difference to have two women leading Sinn Fein. They are no more likely to reach a compromise at the talks than male leaders.
"It's where a party is coming from that is important.
"I'm pessimistic about a deal because we have win-lose politics in Northern Ireland. Whoever is flexible is seen as losing, and I don't believe either the DUP or Sinn Fein want to give ground."
TUV leader Jim Allister claimed that regardless of who was president and vice-president of Sinn Fein, he believed the IRA Army Council would still control the party.
He dismissed Ms McDonald's good wishes to her "unionist brothers and sisters" as "condescending humbug" from a politician who hadn't denounced IRA actions which had "left many without brothers and sisters".
Speaking ahead of tomorrow's talks, Ms O'Neill said the issues which had caused Stormont's collapse could be resolved if the political will existed.
"Issues like marriage equality, an Irish Language Act, legacy inquests, rights, respect and integrity in government should not be politically contentious," she said. "A polarised society is not good for any community and I want to be part of changing that, of building a more reconciled society where mutual respect and parity of esteem are central.
"A restored executive with genuine power-sharing at its heart and acting in the interests of all citizens is the best way to confront these challenges and mitigate against them."
Meanwhile, SDLP chairman Colin McGrath called for London and Dublin to "remove the shroud of secrecy" in the talks process.
Speaking after meeting officials from both governments, he said he was "frustrated" at the failure to make the talks process open and transparent.
"Despite the announcement that a talks process would resume this week, we are all still in the dark over what exactly the DUP and Sinn Fein have been discussing for the past year," he commented.
"I made it very clear to both the British and Irish governments that a step change was needed. That means that the progress and compromises we have been told were made between the DUP and Sinn Fein need to be put on the table."