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Northern Ireland 'running out of road' to restore power-sharing, warns Sinn Féin vice-president

Michelle O’Neill also said that the DUP lacked the ‘bandwidth’ to deal with both Northern Ireland and Westminster.

Michelle O'Neill speaking at the IIEA today.
Michelle O'Neill speaking at the IIEA today.
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

SINN FEIN’S MICHELLE O’Neill has said that the parties in Northern Ireland are “running out of road” when it comes to getting power sharing restored nearly three years after it collapsed. 

The party’s vice-president has said that 13 January – the new date for when an Assembly election is scheduled for – represents a deadline for Northern Irish parties to enter talks and to ensure that power-sharing returns. 

“I think we’re quickly running out of road in being able to put the institutions back together,” she said. 

O’Neill, who was speaking after giving a lecture at the Institute for International and European Affairs, said that the Stormont assembly not functioning for nearly three years was not “sustainable”. 

“All efforts now need to be on trying to find a resolution,” she said. 

Unlike previous times when Stormont has collapsed, the UK government has not introduced direct rule to run Northern Ireland – leaving the region at a legislative standstill. 

Yesterday, a sitting of Stormont backed by the DUP in response to the decriminalisation of abortion law in Northern Ireland descended into farce when party after party left the Assembly chamber after a bid to block the introduction of abortion and same-sex marriage failed. 

Sinn Féin had rejected the sitting. Today, O’Neill said the meeting in Stormont had “failed”. 

“I believe it was a political stunt on behalf of the DUP to try to continue to deny citizens their rights,” she said.

O’Neill also warned that the DUP lacked the “bandwidth” to focus on both Westminster, where the party’s 10 MPs hold considerable sway in deciding key Brexit votes, and on Northern Ireland. 

“They do not have the capacity then to deal with the situation in the North. That disappoints me. But it is the reality of the situation,” she said. 

She suggested that, now that a deal has been secured with the EU, some “Brexit clarity” could help restore Stormont. 

O’Neill used the speech to suggest that setting a “realistic reunification date” would allow any transition to a united Ireland to avoid the same mistakes as Brexit. 

Her party had previously called for a border poll immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

“All of the mistakes made during the Brexit referendum must be avoided in any national dialogue and referenda on the constitutional future of Ireland,” she said. 

Comparing the possibility of a move towards a united Ireland to that of German unification, O’Neill said that the UK, the EU and Ireland should begin discussions on the issue. 

She said that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference – one of the bodies created by the Good Friday Agreement – could act as a forum for that discussion. 

Ireland, she said, should create a constitution unit and appoint a minister for north-south relations to lay the groundwork for a unity referendum. 

“Following a vote for reunification, agreements will be needed between the Irish and Westminster governments, setting the parameters for Ireland’s transition to reunification,” she said. 

O’Neill called for a “precise timetable” towards unification following any vote. 

“Brexit is a serious, direct threat to Ireland’s future political stability and economic prosperity. These challenges require new thinking and a radical and innovative response,” she said.

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