Michelle O’Neill: Stormont stalemate a ‘direct consequence’ of Tory-DUP deal
In the absence of the Assembly and an Executive, the choice for both the British and Irish governments is between the protection of the Good Friday Agreement or its abandonment, writes Michelle O’Neill
The failure to restore the power-sharing administration in Belfast is a direct consequence of the Tory-DUP deal to prop up Theresa May’s government.
It undermined the entire talks process and shattered any remaining pretence of British Government impartiality.
Negotiations on that basis cannot deliver a sustainable deal and it should come as no surprise that the talks ended without agreement last week.
For the previous ten months, Sinn Féin has been seeking agreement on the implementation of outstanding commitments as a basis for restoring public trust and confidence in the institutions.
We were flexible, we were willing to stretch ourselves to achieve a breakthrough.
Unfortunately, others were not. The Stormont Executive collapsed in January when Martin McGuinness tendered his resignation over the DUP’s refusal to deal with the financial scandal engulfing that party.
His actions marked the culmination of a growing frustration at the DUP’s approach to power-sharing. Agreements made were reneged on. Others were never implemented. There was no reciprocation of Sinn Féin’s efforts towards reconciliation. One DUP financial scandal followed another. Calculated insults towards the Irish language and culture became part of the accepted vocabulary of DUP representatives and, of course, there was the refusal to recognise rights that are taken for granted in every other part of these islands.
This denial of rights would not be accepted in London or Dublin and it should not be accepted in Belfast.
Why should LGBT people in the North be denied the right to marry? Why should native language speakers be denied the same protections as everywhere else? Why should the families of victims be denied the right to a proper inquest into the death of their loved ones?
Those inequalities are indefensible but that is precisely what the British Government has been attempting to do.
Rather than act with rigorous impartiality as the Good Friday Agreement compelled them to, the British Government instead provided cover for the DUP’s refusal to deliver equality and honour their commitments.
Through her pact with the DUP, Theresa May prioritised her own electoral survival over the interests of the people in the North.
But the peace and political processes in Ireland are too valuable to be used as a pawn in the internal wranglings of the Tory party and Theresa May should reflect carefully about her next steps.
Last Friday we told her that direct rule is not an option.
In the absence of the Assembly and Executive the choice for both the British and Irish governments is between the protection of the Good Friday Agreement or its abandonment.
The issues at the heart of this crisis aren’t going away. It is now the responsibility of the two governments to look to the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and to ensure British-Irish intergovernmental conference meets as soon as possible.
The way forward now is for the two governments to fulfil their responsibility as co-guarantors of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, to honour outstanding commitments, and to deliver rights enjoyed by everyone else on these islands to people here.
This would pave the way for the Executive to be restored.
Michelle O’Neill is the leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly