Michelle O'Neill accuses new Dublin government of ‘ignoring the people of the north'
DEPUTY first minister Michelle O'Neill has accused the new Irish government of "ignoring the people of the north" in one of its first actions.
The Sinn Féin vice-president yesterday expressed her "deep disappointment" that no unionist voices were among 11 new Seanad nominees.
Ms O'Neill singled out the "invaluable contribution" of Co Armagh-born farmer Ian Marshall, who in 2018 became the first unionist elected to the upper house of the Oireachtas.
He lost his seat earlier this year and said on Sunday that the nominations "send a very clear message to the unionist community that they have no role to play down south".
The new coalition government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Greens has pledged to "work towards a consensus on a shared island" in which all traditions are mutually respected, including establishing a dedicated unit within the Department of the Taoiseach.
Ms O'Neill said newly-elected Taoiseach Micheál Martin is planning a visit to Northern Ireland over the coming days, and she looked forward to a "good working relationship" through the North South Ministerial Council which she noted hadn't met "for some time".
She added however: "It is disappointing that one of the first actions that this government has taken has ignored the people of the north.
"I think it is fair to say that in the last Seanad, Seanadoir Ian Marshall made an invaluable contribution to representing the unionist people of the north and his views on other topics was always insightful and helpful.
“I, and I know others in this Seanad, expected to see Ian back... I am deeply disappointed the government decided to exclude unionists from this chamber. I would appeal to them that at the first opportunity there is a vacancy in this chamber they fill it with a representative of the unionist people in the north."
Ms O'Neill said the upper house had a reputation as an "inclusive institution" representative of the "people of the nation" and that should continue.
First minister Arlene Foster did not criticise Mr Martin's decision, saying "it is of course entirely a matter for the Taoiseach as to who he puts on to the Seanad".
She confirmed, however, that she and Ms O'Neill had spoken to Mr Martin yesterday and she looked forward to working with him on "matters of mutual concern for both of our jurisdictions".
"Of course we look forward to having a positive relationship with him, he is our nearest neighbour and it is important that we have a good conversation and a good relationship," she said.
Meanwhile, Green Party leader Clare Bailey also expressed her disappointment at the lack of northern nominees to the Seanad due to the "many cross border issues" facing the new coalition government, "not least the implementation of Brexit".
She added: "Ian Marshall was an historic appointment for the previous Seanad and proved to be an important voice particularly for the unionist community from this part of the island.
"I am delighted at the appointment of Eileen Flynn as the first person from the travelling community to join the Seanad. Eileen Flynn has been a wonderful activist for travellers rights and equality more broadly.
"However, it’s a missed opportunity that an appointment for both the traveller community and Northern Ireland could not have been made."