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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Charlie Moloney

UK must ‘step up to plate’ over Northern Ireland protocol, says Sinn Féin

Michelle O'Neill  speaking at Sein Fein's conference
Michelle O'Neill called on the UK government to set out its plan at Sinn Féin’s annual conference. Photograph: Damien Storan/PA

The Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, has said the UK government needs to “step up to the plate” and find a way to make the Northern Ireland protocol work.

On Friday, the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, said there will not be a Stormont election in December.

Speaking in Dublin at Sinn Féin’s annual conference, O’Neill called for the British government to set out its plan next week.

O’Neill said: “They have yet to set out what are the next steps, so I would demand that there is a very clear statement next week from the British government that actually says what they are going to do next.

“If they are going to extend the time to call an election, the purpose needs to be to find an agreed way forward to make the protocol work, and all those talks need to continue in earnest.

“We need to find an agreed way forward. Westminster needs to step up to the plate and find a way to make the protocol work, and then the public can have an executive that actually helps them through the cost of living crisis.

“It is just madness that in this day and age whenever people are struggling through these winter months that there is no executive in place and no ministers taking decisions.

“There is no one at the helm in the north. It is not good enough.”

Meanwhile, Mary Lou McDonald, said that joint authority between Dublin and London should be “plan B” if an executive in Northern Ireland is not restored.

The Sinn Féin leader said that if the Democratic Unionist party continues to boycott the Northern Ireland assembly, then the British and Irish governments should form a partnership.

Speaking at the conference, McDonald said she spoke to the Irish prime minister, Micheál Martin, about the prospect of a joint authority, adding that there needs to be clarity around a “plan B”.

“It means not turning back the clock. It means for those sections of political unionism who hanker for yesterday, yesterday is not available, only tomorrow, the only way is forward,” McDonald added.

“The very basis of the peace settlement of the democratic institutions has been partnership between all of us. On this island between two sovereign governments.

“So, in the event that the DUP continue to sabotage the institutions, continue to refuse to nominate a deputy first minister to work hand in glove with Michelle O’Neill, a first minister for all, if that continues, well then, of course the governments have to have a plan B, one of partnership, one of a joint authority, and I raised this matter with the taoiseach [Micheál Martin] recently.”

Both the British and Irish governments have played down the prospect of joint authority in recent weeks, with Heaton-Harris stating that the UK government position is that it “will not countenance” it.

The Irish minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney, said during a recent visit to Belfast that joint authority was not the “focus” of the Irish government.

He made the comments as he sought to address recent loyalist anger about the prospect of UK-Irish joint authority if devolution was not restored in Belfast.

Sinn Féin is calling for an Irish government role in the running of Northern Ireland if the ongoing devolution logjam continues.

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