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Stormont politicians must salvage what they can following DUP-led chaos: O’Neill

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader said parties met earlier to discuss how they can fast-track remaining legislation including on climate change.

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Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill (left) with MLA John O’Dowd. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill (left) with MLA John O’Dowd. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill (left) with MLA John O’Dowd. (Rebecca Black/PA)

Stormont politicians have been urged to work to “salvage” what they can from the “chaos” caused by the DUP.

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill was speaking in the Assembly after party whips met to discuss how to expedite outstanding legislative Bills through to completion before the end of the mandate.

Ms O’Neill was appearing in the chamber for the first time since she was removed from her post as deputy First Minister following the resignation of DUP First Minister Paul Givan in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

She made particular reference to uncertainty that now surrounds a scheduled state apology next month for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

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Former First Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan (Peter Morrison/PA)

Former First Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan (Peter Morrison/PA)

PA

Former First Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan (Peter Morrison/PA)

“The DUP’s actions in unilaterally resigning from the Executive are reckless and have caused concern and uncertainty for businesses, for workers, for families and campaigners on a range of many important issues,” she said.

“In terms of the survivors of historical institutional abuse they have caused real hurt and real trauma.

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“While the DUP must bear responsibility for that, I am also very conscious that those of us who are serious about showing responsible leadership and delivering for people can and should seek to salvage what we can from the chaos the DUP have caused.”

Earlier, Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey told MLAs it was his intention the assembly passes “as much legislation as possible” in the weeks ahead.

Opening the start of business on Monday, Mr Maskey also said that he had had no contact with the Northern Ireland Office about ending the assembly’s mandate at an “early stage”, which would see an earlier election than planned.

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DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley (Liam McBurney/PA)

DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley (Liam McBurney/PA)

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DUP MLA for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill said there was a wide range of important draft legislation that needed to be progressed into law before the Northern Ireland Assembly mandate ended.

She said that included Bills on climate change, organ donation, integrated education, autism, safe access zones for abortion services, a ban on fracking, welfare mitigation payments and stalking protections.

“These are all hugely important issues which have all real-life impacts and real-life consequences,” Ms O’Neill told MLAs.

“Sinn Fein wants to work with the other parties to make sure they are taken forward in the limited time we have left in this mandate.

“I stand ready to do this important work, and whilst time is of the essence progress is still possible across a range of areas. That should be the singular focus of this Assembly in the weeks ahead.”

DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley responded in the chamber, saying there had been “a lot of posturing and revisionism in the House”.

He said unionists “will not stand idly by while they call for the rigorous implementation of an Irish Sea border”.

“They would have us do nothing in the face of continuing economic and constitutional carnage the protocol is causing,” he told MLAs.

He also accused Sinn Fein of “hypocrisy and double standards”.

“Sinn Fein would collapse this place in a heartbeat over narrow pet projects like the Irish language for example, but are happy to ignore the Irish Sea border which is a threat to the prosperity of everyone everywhere.”

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SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Rebecca Black/PA)

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Rebecca Black/PA)

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon (Rebecca Black/PA)

SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon said the people deserved the five-year mandate of politicians doing the job that they were elected to do.

“But they were robbed of three years because Sinn Fein collapsed the place and now the DUP are intent on robbing the people of Northern Ireland of what little time we have left,” she said.

“It is a cynical self-serving election stunt by the DUP because they are desperate ahead of the polls in May so we are appealing to other parties to not fall into the DUP’s trap.

“What the DUP want is as toxic a backdrop as possible to this election so that they can manipulate and scare people to the polls.”

Speaking during the debate, UUP leader Doug Beattie said “walking away” is not going to solve issues around the protocol, but only “hurt our people”.

“I met with the leader of the DUP on multiple occasions and we talked this through and I did say to him that collapsing or removing the First Minister would be a bad idea,” he told MLAs.

“But he has now taken that decision and what we have to do is analyse where we are right now and what we can do to maximise the legislation which is going through this Assembly for the betterment of the people of Northern Ireland and if we can stay focused on that we can mitigate some of the damage.”

However he said there are “genuine concerns” around the protocol which “cannot be ignored”.

Alliance MLA Andrew Muir also accused the DUP of “stunt politics” and a “pathetic attempt to claw back votes lost”.

“It is our duty as MLAs to get as much legislation passed as possible, now is not the time to knock off early, we need to get the job done and work to the end of this mandate,” he added.


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