O’Neill: We don’t need a new deal to bring back Executive

Michelle ONeill accused the DUP and government of not fully implementing previous agreements
Michelle ONeill accused the DUP and government of not fully implementing previous agreements

Sinn Fein has ruled out renegotiating the terms of past political agreements in post-election talks to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland.

The party’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the key to reviving the crisis-hit institutions was not a “new deal” but the implementation of outstanding elements of existing accords.

“We are not interested in renegotiating a new deal – we don’t need one,” she said in an interview with the Press Association.

“We need the implementation of what has previously been agreed. That’s part of the problem.

“The DUP have failed to implement previous agreements, the British government have failed to implement previous agreements and they have pandered to the DUP time and time again and let them away with it.”

She cited the proposed ‘bill of rights’ in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, the Irish language act referred to in an annex of the 2006 St Andrews’ Agreement and the stalled mechanisms for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles negotiated in the 2014 Stormont House Agreement as key issues in discussions around restoring devolution.

Mrs O’Neill has stopped short of declaring the issues red lines in regard to her party’s decision to join a new coalition executive.

If the DUP and Sinn Fein are again returned as the two largest parties in next month’s snap Assembly poll, they will have three weeks to resolve their multiple differences.

If that time-frame passes without the formation of a new Executive, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire is obliged by law to call yet another election.

However, at such a juncture, the UK government may well consider emergency legislation to suspend power sharing and reintroduce direct rule from Westminster.

In respect of red lines, Sinn Fein has ruled out returning to government if the DUP nominate its leader Arlene Foster as first minister or deputy first minister while a public inquiry examining her handling of Stormont’s botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme is still ongoing.

There is little prospect of the DUP nominating another minister to the posts and as the party is also long opposed to an Irish language act and a bill of rights, the likelihood of a swift return to power sharing looks slim.

In additional, there are also a range of issues the DUP want Sinn Fein to give ground on.

Despite the multiple obstacles, Mrs O’Neill insisted it could be possible to resolve them within three weeks.

“They could be if people came at it with the right attitude,” she said.

“They could if people showed willingness to actually adhere to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

“And I believe we could find the way forward in three weeks if people approach it with that mind-set.

“We are not looking to introduce a new agreement, we don’t need to spend weeks and months trying to find a way through a new agreement.

“We are not interested in that – let’s just get on with implementing what has previously been agreed.

“The Irish language act, bill of rights, the legacy mechanisms, getting those implemented – those are all key issues for us that need to be implemented and they are all outstanding from previous agreements.

“If there was a willingness and the DUP were serious about going into government then they could – and we could – find a way forward, if they fundamentally change their ways.”