Political news

Sinn Féin prepared to govern north and south under right conditions

Mary Lou McDonald said Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill was ready to lead the party into power-sharing. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Mary Lou McDonald has said Sinn Féin stands ready to govern on both sides of the border but the restoration of the Stormont institutions is conditional on the DUP making a “real commitment to power-sharing”.

The Dublin Central TD was speaking as she made her first speech as leader to the Sinn Féin ard fheis in Belfast.

The two-day conference at the Waterfront Hall was attended by around 1800 delegates from across Ireland.

In a Saturday night address that brought the ard fheis to a close, Mrs McDonald said the “old certainties” were gone.

“The perpetual unionist majority in the north is no more,” she said.

“The two and a half party system in the south has been consigned to history.”

She said republicans had shared power at Stormont with an “unlikely partner” for a decade under “very challenging circumstances”.

“We made it work, not because it was easy but because it was the right thing to do – in the collective, national interest,” she said.

The Sinn Féin leader said a power-sharing executive and assembly in Northern Ireland was “still the right thing” and that Michelle O’Neill was ready to lead the party into government.

“We need partners who will legislate for the common good, not on the basis on personal prejudice or religious fundamentalism,” she said.

“Partners who place respect, reconciliation, and the rights of citizens, above all else. Partners with a real commitment to power-sharing – to sharing power, to mutual recognition, to rights.”

She said the DUP was “more interested in facilitating the Tory Brexit" than protecting the rights and livelihoods of people in the north.

“And so the two governments must act now to deliver on marriage equality, to address the legacy of the past and to deliver acht na Gaeilge,” she said.

Mrs McDonald called on the Irish and British governments to to convene the intergovernmental conference, saying unionism could not “hold back the tide of change and equality”.

On the prospect of Sinn Féin entering government in the south, she said the party’s opponents were vying with each other to find reasons to keep republicans out of power.

“Let me set a few things straight – we are already a party of government,” she said.

“I want to lead this party into a progressive government in the south – I want to do that from a position of strength, a strength derived from the support of the people.”

The Dublin Central TD said her party would only enter a coalition when an acceptable programme for government was agreed.

“It is not for Leo Varadkar or Micheál Martin to decide whether or not we enter government – that decision will be made, in the first instance by the people,” she said.

The Sinn Féin leader said a new Ireland “must be home for unionists” and that ways needed to be found to talk about the future.

She said reconciliation was important, while conceding that this was difficult.

“People suffered, were hurt, endured pain, inflicted pain,” Mrs McDonald said.

“We can’t make that go away but we can say sorry to each other – I believe it is important that we do.”

She said she would “work tirelessly”to ensure there was no return to conflict and that Sinn Féin respected the rights of everybody to remember and honour their dead.

The Sinn Féin leader accused the British government of “foot dragging” on the funding for legacy inquests and said the money should be released without delay.

She said Brexit had put the border and partition “at the centre of the political agenda”.

“We are now challenged, all of us, right across Ireland to work in common cause to protect Irish interests, north and south,” she said.

“This challenge is as real for unionism as it is for republicans and nationalists – treading water, fingers crossed and hoping for the best is not a strategy at this time.”

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