SINN FÉIN First Minister Designate Michelle O’Neill has challenged the British Government to explain what it is doing to end the DUP’s blockade of power-sharing in the North.
Speaking from London this morning, before the British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference meets in Dublin today, Ms O’Neill said: “In May, the people of the North voted for change and for parties to work together to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and fix the problems in our health service.
“Over eight months on, we still do not have an Executive in place to tackle the huge issues facing workers and families because one party is refusing to accept the result of that election.”
The Northern Ireland Executive has been unable to function since May 2022, when, following Sinn Fein’s historic Assembly Election win, the DUP refused to take up its roles in the Executive until their demands on issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol were addressed.
As it stands that refusal continues and the power-sharing government has yet to reform.
In the months that have passed, Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has stated that “people in Northern Ireland deserve a functioning Assembly and Executive, where locally elected representatives can address issues that matter most to the people that elect them".
However there has been little movement from the British Government to bring the power-sharing parties back together in office.
Instead, in November 2022 Mr Heaton-Harris extended the deadline for when another Assembly Election would need to be called in the North, a move which required legislation to be passed at Westminster.
“Chris Heaton-Harris’ time in the office of British Secretary of State has been one of dithering, delay and indecision and a do-nothing approach to ending the DUP’s blockade,” Ms O’Neill said.
“He did provide cover for the DUP, changing the law to prevent the people having their say on their refusal to get back to work around the Executive table,” she added.
“He claimed he needed space while families struggled with the soaring costs of food, heating and energy without an Executive to support them.
"The Brtitish Government must clearly spell out to the people, and to us as political leaders, what it is doing to restore the Assembly and Executive the people voted for.
“There is no time to waste. There is serious work to be done in the coming days. The progress made towards reaching an agreement on the Protocol must be built on and talks between the British government and the EU intensified.
“As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, there is an onus on the Irish government to do more to get the Executive back up and running now so we can work together and deliver for people.”
On January 12 Mr Heaton-Harris met with Tánaiste Micheál Martin at Hillsborough to discuss a range of matters, including the Northern Ireland Executive, ahead of today’s British Irish Inter-Governmental Conference.
Following their meeting, he said: “I was delighted to host Tánaiste Micheál Martin in Hillsborough this morning and look forward to furthering the UK and Ireland’s bilateral relationship.
“We agree on the need to see a strong devolved government in Northern Ireland and the restoration of an Executive as soon as possible, as the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement intends.”
He added: “It was productive to talk through this and other important issues, including the opportunities for Northern Ireland’s future, and addressing the legacy of the past.
He further explained that the “meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin will offer us space to discuss these matters of mutual interest in greater detail”.