O’Neill: Focus on cost of living, not unity

People in Northern Ireland are currently not waking up thinking about Irish unity, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill has said, claiming the public’s focus today is on the cost-of-living crisis.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 6th April 2022, 8:08 am

Ms O’Neill was reacting to the latest opinion poll on Irish unity, which indicated that fewer than one in three would vote for unification if asked tomorrow.

The comments from Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader at a pre-election business event in Belfast also came amid claims from the DUP that her party is fixated with pushing for a unity referendum, and was failing to prioritise those struggling to pay their bills.

Addressing the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce’s Five Leaders, Five Days event, Ms O’Neill also challenged the DUP to turn up on “day one” after May’s Assembly election, to form a new power-sharing Executive.

Sinn Fein's Deputy Leader Michelle O'Neill

She was referring to the DUP’s insistence it will not re-enter an administration before changes are made to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP collapsed the Executive in February when it withdrew its first minister Paul Givan in protest at the contentious post-Brexit Irish sea trading arrangements.

On the protocol issue, and the barriers it has created on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, Ms O’Neill acknowledged there was a need to “refine” its implementation.

However, she said another aspect of the protocol – the unfettered access it offers local businesses to sell with the UK market and the EU single market – should be used as “key selling point” to attract more foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland.

“So, while we refine implementation of the protocol, let us make the most of the huge opportunities offered by our unique access to both the EU and British markets,” she said.

On the prospects of a new Executive being formed on the other side of May’s poll, she made a pointed reference to the DUP’s ‘Five Point Plan’ election campaign as she stressed the need for parties to get back to work.

“I think it’s intolerable that we don’t have an Executive and it’s not sustainable to say that there may not be an Executive,” she said.

“There’s no point in having five point plans, or six point plans or seven point plans if you don’t intend to be in government to deliver them.”