Northern Ireland news

Cost-of-living crisis main focus for Stormont election, says Sinn Féin leader

(left to right) Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, and Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill during the Assembly election candidate launch for May's poll at the Titanic Hotel, Belfast.
Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire 
Jonathan McCambridge and David Young, PA

The cost-of-living crisis is the “big, big issue” for families in the upcoming Stormont elections, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has said.

Mrs McDonald was speaking as DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that a Sinn Féin victory in next month’s Assembly election would lead to years of disputes over the calling of a border poll.

However, a Sinn Féin election candidate launch in the Titanic area of Belfast was instead dominated by issues around the cost of living and increased funding for the health service.

Mrs McDonald told the event: “The big priority for Sinn Féin after this election is to get back to work quickly so that the Executive can get money into people’s pockets to help with the rising cost of living, and to provide badly needed investment into our health services, and in particular to deal with waiting lists.

“Rising costs are putting a huge burden on workers and on families who are struggling to keep food on the table and to keep their homes heated.”

Mrs McDonald said that it was important that all issues were addressed in the election campaign, but added: “I think that people are focused on the here and now and the need to get by.

“I know that people are more than capable of being concerned about or committed to multiple things all at once.

“We are very conscious as a leadership setting out our stall that the cost of living now is the big, big issue for families.”

But at an event at a cinema in Dundonald, east Belfast, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey insisted the republican party was not focused on the cost-of-living crisis and was only seeking a mandate to press for a referendum on Irish unity.

“Sinn Féin makes no secret of the fact they want to win this election to argue for and implement their plan for a border poll,” he said.

“Their ambition is to be the biggest political party and leading the governments in both the Republic and Northern Ireland. They are massively ahead in every major opinion poll in the Republic of Ireland.

“If Sinn Féin wins the most seats in this election then Northern Ireland will face months and years of arguing and fighting about a divisive border poll rather than fixing our health service and focusing on rebuilding and growing our economy.

“They want to plunge Northern Ireland into years of division and uncertainty. Their real focus is not the heath service or the cost-of-living crisis.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin remains on course to emerge from the Stormont election as Northern Ireland’s biggest party, a new opinion poll indicates.

The party’s popularity has risen to 27%, extending its lead over the DUP to almost seven points, according to the survey of voter intentions.

The findings of the Institute of Irish Studies-University of Liverpool/Irish News poll are broadly in line with other surveys over recent weeks and months, all of which have put Sinn Fein in front and with a significant gap between it and the second-placed DUP.

If polling data is borne out at the May 5 Assembly election, Sinn Féin would displace the DUP as the north's largest party, a position it has occupied for almost 20 years, and it would be entitled to take the role of first minister, with Michelle O’Neill the party’s likely choice for the job.

However, it is uncertain whether a functioning executive will be formed post-election.

The Executive collapsed in February when DUP first minister Paul Givan quit in protest over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol and the barriers it has created on the movement of goods between Britain and the north.

The DUP has made clear it will not be returning to an executive before major changes are secured to the contentious Irish Sea trading arrangements.

Of the other parties, the Alliance Party looks set to build on recent strong electoral showings.

Despite a one-point drop from February, the poll still places it as the third most popular party at 14.6%.

According to the survey, the UUP comes in fourth in the popular vote, on 13.5% – down a half point from February.

The SDLP, in fifth, is up slightly on its standing seven weeks ago, rising from 9.9% to 10.3%.

Sir Jeffrey said: “In respect of opinion polls, I’ve been around a long time in politics and this party is not going to be directed by a snapshot, which is all an opinion poll is.

“The message coming across on the doorsteps is that the unionist electorate want the DUP to win, they’re getting behind us and I believe we are going to win, so I’m not in any way fazed by a snapshot opinion poll.”

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