Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: The DUP and Tories cannot block equality indefinitely

By Michelle O'Neill MLA

Last week's historic referendum is further evidence that Ireland is changing for the better and a new more compassionate country is emerging where all citizens - north and south - must be treated equally.

As with Marriage Equality in 2015, the people in the 26 Counties voted overwhelmingly to embrace a more progressive future, a future based on the equality, dignity and rights of all citizens.

But here in the north, it's a very different story.

Here the DUP remain determined to carve out a much bleaker future.

Within days of the referendum result, DUP MLA Jim Wells announced that his party, if it had the opportunity, would use the Petition of Concern to block any change to abortion laws in the north.

This echoes the approach they have consistently taken to marriage equality when the DUP repeatedly deployed the petition of Concern to block it in defiance of an Assembly and popular majority.

Again, this is nothing new. The majority in the north support language rights but the DUP have set their face against it.

The majority support the right of victims to truth yet the DUP leader prevented the Lord Chief Justice from carrying out Legacy inquests - a move later branded as 'unlawful' by Belfast High Court.

And of course the DUP have always rejected the will of the people when it comes to the Good Friday Agreement - an accord they have never accepted despite its overwhelming endorsement by the people of Ireland, north and south.

So what next for rights and equality in the north? What next for the concept of democracy?

Clearly, it is unacceptable and unsustainable for the people of the north to be denied the same rights, the same choices and the same democratic entitlements as available everywhere else on these islands.

It is shameful that the DUP, supported by their Tory partners, continue to deny these rights in opposition to the popular will.

The British Government is supposed to act with rigorous impartiality. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, it has responsibilities for equality and the rights of citizens.

Clearly, this British Government has abdicated those responsibilities in order to prioritise its self-serving arrangement with the DUP.

However, such an anti-democratic and anti-equality position is not sustainable in the longer term and the referendum has cast a new international spotlight on the denial of rights to citizens in the north.

The DUP and Tories can't continue to block equality indefinitely. They cannot prevent the emergence of a new Ireland where all citizens, north and south, are treated equally.

More and more citizens are demanding their rights. More and more sectors are having a debate about the future and what kind of society they want to live in.

I believe there is a responsibility on all progressive party leaders to reflect that by standing together in the interests of citizens and a future based on rights and equality for all.

Belfast Telegraph

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