Tory ‘infighting and chaos’ harming politics in the north - O’Neill

Sinn Féin First Minister Designate Michelle O’Neill has said the formation of an Executive and political stability in the north cannot be held hostage by ‘Tory infighting and chaos’ at Westminster.

Speaking after British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis became the latest Minister to resign from the British government, Michelle O’Neill claimed the ‘rigorous impartiality’ required under the Good Friday Agreement had been lacking.

Ms O’Neill claimed the focus rather had been on efforts which “shamefully placated the DUP by giving them political cover in denying the electorate the democratic representation they are entitled to”.

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Ms O’Neill blamed the outgoing Secretary of State for preventing Ministers from using £435 million to support workers and families struggling with the rising cost of living crisis, “agreeing a three-year budget and putting an additional billion pounds towards fixing our health service”.

Sinn Fein First Minister designate Michelle O'Neill with Derry MLAs Padraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson and national chairperson Declan Kearney.

“He has failed victims and survivors by tearing up the Stormont House Agreement agreed by the two governments and political parties to deal with the past,” she claimed, adding:

“He has undermined the Good Friday Agreement and political stability and his actions gave us a daily reminder why those with no mandate or votes here will only ever act in their own political interests, and not ours.

“The political stability of the North cannot be a hostage to the Tory-in fighting, Westminster chaos and continued DUP disruption.”

In his letter to the Prime Minister, the now former NI Secretary Mr Lewis outlined some of the things he considered the biggest successes during his tenure and why he could not carry on.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

He said: “It is with regret that I submit my resignation from the Government. It has been an incredible honour to serve in Government over the last ten years under three Prime Ministers, most recently as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

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“Through the challenges of the last two and a half years, we have taken important steps to secure the future peace and prosperity of Northern Ireland. I am pleased to have guaranteed the greatest funding settlement for Northern Ireland since devolution in 1998. The legacy of the Troubles is one of the most complex and sensitive policy issues we have faced, one that successive Governments have struggled to address, so I am immensely proud that we have persevered and brought in the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill.

“We have taken huge strides to level up the economy of Northern Ireland and have not shied away from taking other difficult decisions; confronting the practical issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, advocating for the reproductive rights of women and championing the benefits of integrated education for all.”

He added: “A decision to leave Government is never taken lightly, particularly at such a critical time for Northern Ireland. I have taken a lot of time to consider this decision, having outlined my position to you at length last night. I have served loyally in your Cabinet and you have achieved much during your time as the leader of our Party and as Prime Minister.”

Mr Lewis said he had given his Party leader and those around him the benefit of the doubt. “I have gone out and defended this Government both publicly and privately. We are, however, now past the point of no return. I cannot sacrifice my personal integrity to defend things as they stand now. It is clear that our Party, parliamentary colleagues, volunteers and the whole country, deserve better.

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“I delivered my first campaign leaflet as a teenager and the Conservative Party has been hugely influential in my life ever since. In recent weeks and months, we have been relentlessly on the defensive, consumed by introspection and in-fighting. A divided Party cannot win elections. It cannot deliver for those who trusted us with their votes for the first time in 2019.

“A decent and responsible Government relies on honesty, integrity and mutual respect it is a matter of profound personal regret for me that I must leave Government as I no longer believe those values are being upheld.”