The late Martin McGuinness triggered a new phase in the political process by resigning in the face of “DUP arrogance” and the British government’s “abject failure to honour its commitments on equality and rights”, Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill told supporters in Derry on Thursday.
The new Sinn Féin leader in the North also claimed Brexit underlined the “undemocratic nature of partition” and warned there can be no return to the democratic deficit suffered under direct rule from London.
She said this would be totally unacceptable to Sinn Féin and in breach of the St. Andrew’s Agreement of 2006, which stipulated that new partnership arrangements between the British and Irish governments would be implemented if attempts to restore power-sharing failed.
Addressing colleagues in the City Hotel on Thursday evening, Ms. O’Neill began by paying tribute to the late Mr. McGuinness.
“Martin was a towering pillar of strength and his commitment and determination never once faltered.
“His leadership alongside Gerry Adams and our collective leadership has brought us to the position we are in today as the biggest party on this island, the engine for progressive political change, north and south,” she said.
Ms. O’Neill went on to argue that the late Sinn Féin leader triggered a new stage in the political process through his resignation as Deputy First Minister earlier this year.
“In January, Martin was left with no other option but to resign as Deputy First Minister because of the RHI scandal and the total failure of the DUP leader to accept her party’s responsibility for this.
“This scandal alongside the arrogance and disrespect of the DUP towards whole sections of our society was entirely unacceptable.
“Martin made clear that there can be no return to the status quo or business as usual. We are at an important stage in the political and peace process – make no mistake about it.
“The recent election was a watershed moment for the people of the North.
“The people understood the importance of the election. There can be no tolerance of incompetence and financial scandals such as Red Sky, NAMA, RHI or arrogance or bigotry in public office.
“We cannot be part of institutions which are being corrupted. The results are a rejection of narrow-minded self-interest and bigotry.”
Ms. O’Neill told supporters that the party had taken many political risks to embed the peace process and had extended an “open hand to our unionist neighbours” because it was “the right thing to do”.
But, she complained, that this hadn’t been reciprocated.
She said there needed to be movement on an Irish Language Act, a Bill of Rights and on the past, from both the DUP and the British government, otherwise progress won’t be made on the restoration of power sharing institutions.
“The reality is that the British Government has abjectly failed to honour its commitments on equality and rights. “They must now step up and deliver on their commitments otherwise restoring the institutions is in serious doubt.”
Mr. O’Neill also said direct rule from London was “unacceptable”.
“The Irish government has a huge responsibility to prevent any return to direct rule and to ensure that the partnership arrangements agreed in 2006 are put in place to defend and build on the Good Friday Agreement principles of equality and mutual respect,” she said.
Ms. O’Neill said that regardless of the outcome of the current talks Sinn Féin’s drive for a United Ireland has been energised by Brexit.
“A new conversation about the future is underway. It is happening in living rooms and workplaces across the country.
“The triggering of Article 50 and the imminent start of Brexit negotiations; the Assembly election results, which saw the Unionist parties lose their Assembly majority; and the Scottish government’s call for a second Independent referendum, are the context for the current discussions on a United Ireland.
“The determination of the British government to impose Brexit on the North, despite the vote of the people, underlines the undemocratic nature of partition and the unequal relationship between London and Belfast.
“Sinn Féin is about strategising, organising, and persuading for a new and united Ireland we believe can be delivered.”