Michelle O'Neill: Demand for rights and equality will not be silenced by DUP's decision to collapse talks

Michelle O'Neill

THE demand for rights and equality will not be silenced by the DUP’s decision to collapse the talks, or be hamstrung by the DUP/Tory pact.

As Sinn Féin vice president, I want to be absolutely clear that these issues must be addressed sooner rather than later.

The DUP’s failure to deliver on the draft agreement doesn’t change that.

We will continue to pursue rights and equality and that was always going to be the case because Sinn Féin did not secure everything we would have wished in the draft agreement.

But we did make important gains and secured the basis for a return to the power-sharing institutions on a radically-altered foundation.

The new institutions would have been bound to respect Irish language and culture through an Acht Gaeilge and in law.

This would provide official recognition of the status of the language and statutory protections to prevent any repeat of the calculated insults and disrespect of recent years. The ban on Irish in courts would also have been repealed.

Legacy inquest funding would have been secured and the consultation on the Stormont House legacy mechanisms implemented without the insertion of a crude statute of limitations.

Executive parties would have to conduct themselves in a manner conducive to rights and on the basis of tolerance and mutual respect.

A Petition of Concern (PoC) review would have reported by June. And as all parties, with the exception of the DUP, support ending the abuse of this mechanism, this represented a new pathway to reform.

And there would be an end to the ‘no nationalist need apply’ policy to the Justice Ministry.

Sinn Féin also made marriage equality a major issue because the denial of this right is unacceptable.

The draft agreement provided limited progress. The DUP agreed not to seek an early veto of a Private Members Bill so it could be fully debated.

However, they refused to rule out seeking a PoC on the vote. And with the likely support of the TUV and some Ulster Unionists, they could still veto marriage equality.

Therefore, Sinn Féin pursued the British Government.

We made it clear if the DUP remained intransigent, then the British Government had a duty under the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) to act.

The British Secretary of State confirmed a free vote will be permitted on any Westminster proposal to legislate for marriage equality here. Labour immediately confirmed its intention to bring a proposal forward.

A clear pathway to marriage equality has now been opened up by our efforts and I look forward to this shameful inequality being redressed.

These matters should be addressed within locally-accountable power-sharing institutions.

But while the DUP continues to shirk its responsibilities, that isn’t possible at this time.

However, citizens’ rights must be implemented and agreements honoured.

These are issues for society as a whole, human rights issues, civil rights, legal rights and equality issues, a win on these issues is a win for all.

After meeting Theresa May and Karen Bradley it is clear the British Government has no plan.

Sinn Féin remains fully committed to the GFA as the basis for sharing power through partnership government.

Any effort to return to direct rule would represent the abandonment of the GFA.

Direct rule is unacceptable to Sinn Féin and the wider nationalist community.

It is now the responsibility of both governments as co-guarantors of the GFA to take action on the equality issues they have responsibility for.

On this joint basis, they must convene the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference and determine how such rights will be delivered, by what means and in what timeframe.

The purpose of the Conference is to “promote bilateral cooperation at all levels on all matters of mutual interest within the competence of both Governments”.

We have told both Theresa May and Leo Varadkar that it should now meet urgently and without delay.

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