Michelle O'Neill tells ard fheis that executive can only work if based on 'genuine equal partnership'
SINN Féin’s northern leader has said she wants to bring the party back into devolved government but only in an executive that represents “genuine equal partnership”.
Michelle O’Neill was speaking in Dublin last night at the beginning of party’s ard fheis.
Sinn Féin’s second consecutive annual conference in the capital is tonight expected to hear party president Gerry Adams outline details of a planned leadership transition.
The Louth TD has been leader since 1983 and is widely expected to be succeeded by Dublin TD and deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald.
Before the leader’s speech, however, delegates will debate a series of potentially controversial motions about abortion.
Ms O’Neill told The Irish News that she will be supporting a policy shift backed by the party’s ruling executive that seeks to broaden access to terminations with the inclusion of circumstances where there is a risk to the pregnant woman’s health.
She made no reference to today's debate on abortion in last night's address to party members gathered at the RDS.
Her primary focus was on the political logjam at Stormont and her insistence that Sinn Féin remains committed to the devolved institutions.
"Sinn Féin has invested hugely in the peace process and the political institutions for the benefit of everyone and we remain committed to making the institutions work,” she said.
"I want to lead Sinn Féin back into a new executive, which represents genuine equal partnership government.”
In her inaugural ard fheis address as northern leader, the Mid Ulster MLA said her party had spent more than 10 months seeking to resolve the political impasse through negotiations with the DUP and the Irish and British governments.
"However, despite our best endeavours the discussions were unsuccessful – in large part this was pre-determined by the Conservative Party’s pact with the DUP to keep them in government," she said.
"Sinn Féin remains committed to the restoration of the institutions and the executive, however, they only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.”
She quoted her predecessor Martin McGuinness, who had said “there is no going back to the status quo”.
While earlier this week Ms O’Neill said she did not expect formal negotiations before Christmas, she said Sinn Féin leadership would make “every effort to find a political solution to the political breakdown”.
"If the DUP or anyone else wish to exercise political power in government in the north of Ireland now or in the future, then the cost is to embrace a rights-based society and equal partnership government, which works for everyone – this would pave the way for the executive to be restored,” she said.
"The people voted for the implementation of previous political agreements; they voted for the values of the Good Friday Agreement and they voted for a step change and no return to the status quo.”
Ms O’Neill added that Sinn Féin was committed to tackling sectarianism and building a just and fair society based on equality and respect.
She said an Irish language act had both “practical and symbolic importance” in recognising and respecting Irish national identity.