Northern Ireland news

Michelle O'Neill not 'hung up' on what to call Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill. Picture by Niall Carson

Michelle O’Neill said she does not get “too hung up” on what she calls Northern Ireland.

Asked if she uses the term “Northern Ireland”, the Sinn Féin vice-president and first minister designate of Northern Ireland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t get too hung up on these things.

“I mean, I say North of Ireland, others say Northern Ireland.”

Asked if she could refer to it as Northern Ireland, she said: “Yes, and I have done in the past week.

Ms O’Neill told the assembly last week that she stood ready to “take on the leadership of the Northern Ireland Executive as a first minister for all”.

Sinn Féin sources suggested that this was the first time she said “Northern Ireland” in the assembly, in a bid to reach out.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “And I think it’s important that also if the democratic outcome of the election is respected I would be the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive.

“So I think we shouldn’t get hung up on those things. It’s the beauty of the Good Friday Agreement – British, Irish or both or neither.

“So I think that that’s important. I think we should be a bit relaxed about those things.”

Ian Paisley MP last week said he needed to “lie down and recover from the shock” of Ms O’Neill using the term Northern Ireland.

“One hundred years to call Northern Ireland its proper name, my goodness, let me please lie down and recover from the shock of that,” he told the BBC.

“I think it’s up to Sinn Féin to explain to people how they think using the proper and official term of the country which inside they live, and which gives them a salary, and which gives them the National Health Service, and which gives them the enjoyment of the liberties that they have – why it is such a big deal for them to use its proper name,” he added.

“I don’t ask for any credit, or any pats on the back, or applause when I call the Republic of Ireland its proper name, but maybe that’s how trivial I should be, that now that I’ve used the proper terminology for my neighbouring state, that I should be awarded and applauded.

“I honestly think that’s quite juvenile by Sinn Féin.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin is expected to meet Conservative MPs later.

Ms O’Neill was asked why she is meeting the Conservatives.

She told BBC Radio 4: “I think it’s really important that over the course of yesterday and today that we take this opportunity to put across the fact that, a number of things I suppose, firstly that the democratic outcome of the election must be respected, that the British government need to stop pandering to the DUP, that the DUP’s voice does not reflect the wider view at home.

“The reality is that the protocol is working. The reality is the business community at home want to see economic certainty. They want clarity around what’s next.

“And the fact that the approach of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson in terms of unilateral action is not what’s wanted. So I think it’s really, really important that we drive that message home, that we give that different perspective.

“And actually, I will go even further to say that true perspective actually of what’s happening on the ground.”

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