Mary Lou McDonald has said Sinn Fein is ready to “do business” to restore power-sharing and has challenged the DUP to step up to the job.
Addressing her party’s ard fheis, she said a long drawn-out talks process wasn’t needed as the issues were “well-rehearsed”.
The Sinn Fein president also said there must be a border poll within the next five years. She strongly supported her party’s abstentionist policy on Westminster and said no Irish elected representative could stop Brexit.
She insisted that Sinn Fein would take no lectures from Fine Gael or Fianna Fail on the issue as they had “abstained from the North” for almost 100 years and couldn’t even be bothered to fight elections here.
Speaking to around 1,500 delegates in the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on Saturday night, Ms McDonald said there was “an immediate challenge” to restore power-sharing at Stormont.
“We are ready to do business,” she said.
Sinn Fein has never been the obstacle to power-sharing or good government or doing a deal. Mary Lou McDonald
“I challenge the DUP and both governments to step forward. To resolve the issues and get government back in action.
“We don’t need a drawn-out talks process. The issues have been well-rehearsed. We need a good faith, purposeful engagement by political unionism. Sinn Fein negotiators stand ready.”
Ms McDonald said that in next month’s Westminster election, her party would challenge DUP MPs who were the “architects and champions of Brexit”.
“So there’s the clear choice. The people will have to call it. Between the future and the past. Between Sinn Fein and Me Fein,” she said.
“The people of North Belfast will have to call it. Between John Finucane and Nigel Dodds.”
Criticising the SDLP, which is battling to win back the Foyle seat from Sinn Fein, Ms McDonald said: “Some claim they will enter Westminster to stop Brexit. Those making this claim need to give themselves a shake.
“No Irish elected representative can stop Brexit. That’s the fact. Rather than indulging in the politics of delusion and blind-alleys, Irish elected representatives must act to protect Irish interests where it matters.
“Far from the chaos of Westminster – in the Dáil, in the Seanad, in the European Parliament, on Capitol Hill. That is what Sinn Féin has done.”
The Sinn Fein president said no Irish republican would ever swear an oath to the British crown.
“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael feel differently. They have very strong views on entering Westminster. Mind you, not strong enough to come up here and contest the elections,” she said.
“Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have abstained from the North for almost 100 years. We take no lectures from those parties who looked the other way, who opted out and who abandoned this part of Ireland.”
In a swipe at internal opposition within Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to forming a coalition government with her party after the next Dail election, Ms McDonald said: “In Dublin, those who lament the absence of Sinn Fein from government in the North are determined to keep us out of government in the South.”
Despite her attacks on Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, the Sinn Fein president indicated that her party was willing to enter a coalition with either of them if they agreed to “implement a republican programme for government”.
She said: "If we have the chance to deliver housing and healthcare, to stand up for people and deliver a fair deal for families, to deliver on Irish unity, Then that is the only basis on which Sinn Fein would enter government.”
Ms McDonald pledged that Sinn Fein would “deliver the largest public house building programme that Ireland has ever seen”.
She promised it would also introduce a living wage, reduce childcare costs, bring the pension age back to 65, axe third-level education fees, and cut the average rent price by up to €1,500 through a tax break.
“I believe we will only see a proper health service and a fair, just economy with Sinn Fein in government," she said.
Ms McDonald claimed that the “days of partition are numbered” as Brexit had changed everything.
“Many people, for the first time, are now considering their future in a united Ireland,” she said.
“The Irish government and all who say that now is not the time to speak of unity are wrong.
“A referendum on unity will happen, as set-out in the Good Friday Agreement. It is not a question of if, but a question of when.”
She said that a border poll must happen within the next five years and she called on the Dublin government to convene an all-Ireland forum to map out the transition to Irish unity.