Northern Ireland news

Mary Lou McDonald: British and Irish governments must break Stormont impasse

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the British and Irish governments must break the political impasse. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE BRITISH and Irish governments must put forward a plan to break the political deadlock at Stormont, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has said.

Ms McDonald told an audience at Queen's University Belfast last night that the two governments must convene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference to discuss a possible solution to the impasse.

She said that despite 13 months of negotiations, the DUP "were unable to deliver" a draft agreement struck between them and her party.

"The draft agreement, while not meeting all our proposals, presented progress and provided a basis to re-establish power-sharing," she said.

She added: "The issues at stake, the rights of Irish Speakers as agreed in St Andrews, the legacy mechanisms agreed in Stormont House and the right to marriage equality – available in the South and across Britain – remain".

Ms McDonald said language and marriage equality rights must be secured with the help of the two governments.

"The Intergovernmental Conference must produce a plan, a pathway to bring forward the legislation and resources to secure these rights and implement the agreements," she said.

Ms McDonald said such an approach would challenge "a British government that is dependent on the DUP".

"It is also a significant challenge to the DUP; to embrace the spirit of powersharing and full equality," she said.

"I believe the powersharing institutions are the best, the only option to chart a way forward together; to navigate the big societal change we face."

Northern Ireland has had no devolved government since the Stormont Executive collapsed in January 2017.

Ms McDonald reflected on the death of her party colleague, former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, last year.

"As Sinn Féin leader I want to build on his work in reaching out the hand of friendship and understanding," she said.

"I have no interest in fighting the battles of the past.

"I see no value in the blame game."

The Sinn Féin leader said Ireland as a whole had changed dramatically in the last 30 years and called on political unionism "to engage with the process of change".

"Many unionists will privately acknowledged change," she said.

"That acknowledgement must now find public expression.

"So let's plan a future for all our children."

She also said there was a need to "tackle sectarianism head on".

"To be clear, by the way, by this I do not mean disrespecting people's beliefs, cultures or churches," she said.

"Religious freedoms, civil liberties and separating church and state are essential dynamics of an open democratic system of governance.

"These are the building blocks of a new Ireland.

"Our laws, our constitutional and cultural frameworks, our public policies must be built on the fundamental equality of every citizen."

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