Nationalists demand focus on restoring Northern Ireland Assembly

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The current uncertainty around the on-off election to the NI Assembly is not acceptable, Michelle O’Neill has said.

The Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O’Neill said also questioned why the Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris had not targeted his MLA pay cut at the DUP representatives who were refusing to engage with the devolved institutions.

Speaking to reporters at Stormont, she said: “What we now have are new deadlines, multiple deadlines, in which he may or may not call an election.

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"So this is not a good enough space for people to be in and I think the fundamental question today has to be around what’s next?

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'NeillSinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill

Ms O’Neill added: “I think it would have been more effective to target that towards those people that are actually failing to turn up and join all the rest of the team that actually want to be here to make politics work”.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: “With the Secretary of State having pushed the idea of an election and the prospect of a deal between the British Government and the EU on the protocol getting closer every day, the DUP has no excuse for continuing their boycott of the Stormont institutions.

“They have no justifiable reason for hanging about while people’s homes get colder and their cupboards get emptier”.

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Alliance leader Naomi Long said that while she welcomed the “clarity” provided by Chris Heaton-Harris, she said it has not changed the “pressing need for reform of the institutions”.

Mrs Long said: “Today’s welcome, particularly around the powers of civil servants relating to finances, given the perilous state of our public services. Any further drift would have made an already rudderless ship even more unstable,” she said.

“However, the overall picture has not changed. As long as any one party can take the institutions hostage, they will.”

Simon Coveney, the Irish Foreign Minister, welcomed the extension to the deadline for calling a fresh Stormont election, saying it allows further space for early substantive progress in the EU-UK talks.

Mr Coveney also urged the UK authorities to “make use” of the renewed opportunity to engage positively with the EU.