Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O'Neill: The issues that caused Stormont's collapse must be resolved

By Michelle O'Neill, Sinn Fein northern leader

Genuine power-sharing institutions are the best vehicle for confronting the twin threats of Brexit and Tory austerity, so no one should be in any doubts about Sinn Fein's determination to see them restored.

The Executive could be in place tomorrow if the DUP blockade on basic rights, available everywhere else on these islands, was ended.

We need the Executive in place because our public services are suffering and because every citizen on the island of Ireland will be impacted by Brexit and every citizen in the North will be impacted by the Tory assault on our public services.

In that context, there is a duty on all public leaders to use every measure at our disposal to mitigate against that and to protect our people and our economy.

That has always been Sinn Fein's approach. We have at all times sought to maximise our influence in every political arena, whether it be in community activism, council chambers the length and breadth of Ireland, the Dail, the Assembly, Westminster and the European Parliament.

As republicans, we are about creating positive change so the power-sharing institutions need to be part of that equation. They are an integral part of our strategy to build a fairer, better society and to demonstrate the value of reconciliation and genuine power-sharing.

But of course, that is only possible if they are sustainable.

That is why the issues that caused their collapse need to be resolved as part of any agreement to restore them. And if the political will is there across the board, I have no do doubt they can be.

Issues like marriage equality, an Irish language act, legacy inquests, rights, respect and integrity in government should not be politically contentious.

All of these matters are already the subject of previous agreements or enjoy majority support in the Assembly and wider community. They should not require a lengthy negotiation. They should not be a matter for intense debate and lengthy political wrangling.

The Barry McElduff controversy caused great hurt and damaged relations, but Sinn Fein took immediate action and Barry did the right thing by resigning.

Mutual respect should mean precisely that and I believe Sinn Fein has shown that we expect the highest of standards in this regard.

And as we prepare to enter new talks today, I give my commitment that Sinn Fein will do so in good faith. We are prepared to stretch and challenge ourselves. I urge all the other parties to do likewise because the simple fact is that power-sharing is the only option. We need a bulwark against the Tory Government in London which is still pursuing its reckless Brexit and austerity agenda.

And that is the real threat to our future. No one has anything to fear from an Irish language act or marriage equality. Rights that are enshrined elsewhere on these islands will not affect anyone's constitutional position or identity when they are implemented here.

But there is plenty to fear in Theresa May's ideological assault on our public services and the most vulnerable. There is plenty to fear in her government's ruthless pursuit of a hard Brexit which threatens to impose a new frontier on our country.

These aren't green or orange fears. They are the very real and legitimate concerns of ordinary citizens across every community.

Dealing with those concerns and protecting those citizens should bind us together as political leaders, not drive us apart.

A restored Executive with genuine power-sharing at its heart and acting to protect all citizens is the best way to confront these challenges and mitigate against them.

It can help ensure the needs of all our citizens, the economy and our public services are protected.

That is in the best interests of all citizens, and when I lead my party into the negotiations, that is what I will be determined to achieve.

Belfast Telegraph


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