Assembly Election

O'Neill says won't be drawing red lines for return to Stormont

Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O'Neill and Conor Murphy at the party's manifesto launch in Armagh. Picture by Mal McCann

SINN Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill has said the party will "not be drawing any red line issues" for a return to Stormont.

Although a border poll, bill of rights and an Irish language act are listed among the party's priorities, none has been identified as a condition for re-establishing the devolved institutions after the March 2 election.

However, launching their manifesto in Armagh yesterday – or what is effectively a re-statement of the main aspects of last May's pre-election pledges – Ms O'Neill said Sinn Féin would not support DUP leader Arlene Foster as first or deputy first minister until the public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal is completed.

"Very clearly what we have to have is a full investigation," Ms O'Neill said.

"We have public concern and outrage and demands for answers."

Flanked by Sinn Féin deputy president Mary Lou McDonald, the party's new Stormont leader said it would be "standing up for equality, integrity, and respect".

She said an Irish language act, which Mrs Foster has pledged she will never agree to, is "obviously a very important issue".

"Look at Scotland and Wales – they still have a health service and education service alongside a language act – so we will not be detracted.

"We know what the DUP are trying to do, to take away from the fact this election is about arrogance, disrespect and contempt for the public."

However, she refused to say whether language legislation would be a deal breaker in post-election negotiations.

"You'd be very aware that I won't be drawing any red line issues – it is a very important issue," she said.

Likewise, Ms O'Neill would not be drawn on whether her party would be insisting on a vote on Irish unity.

In the wake of last June's EU referendum, Sinn Féin was vocal in calling for a border poll.

"We want to see a border poll as soon as absolutely possible," Mrs O'Neill said.

"We want to see a new and agreed Ireland and nobody has anything to fear from Irish republicanism."

She also reiterated the party's objection to Secretary of State James Brokenshire chairing any negotiations, saying they would prefer "to have an external chair".

"James Brokenshire has shown himself to be partisan with his comments in relation to legacy," she said.

"His refusal to accept the wishes of the majority of people here in relation to Brexit have shown he is not an honest broker." .

Ms O'Neill also rejected Arlene Foster's call to scrap the Stormont's controversial petition of concern.

She said the veto mechanism was necessary to "protect peoples' rights".

"The petition of concern needs to be used in the manner it was intended, which is to protect minority rights," she said.

"It is others who have abused that position and have used it to deny people rights – that is not acceptable."

The Sinn Féin northern leader meanwhile laughed off comments by Mrs Foster last week that she was a puppet for party president Gerry Adams.

"I know what my job is as a leader. I intend to lead this party into the election and into the future on the basis of equality, on the basis of delivering in terms of integrity and respect," she said.

"People can try to sidestep and bring this into different areas."

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Assembly Election