NI Assembly election 2022: Michelle O’Neill sets out Sinn Féin stall

Sinn Féin Foyle candidates Pádraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson have handed in their nomination papers to run in what Michelle O’Neill said was “the most important election in a generation” in the north.

Speaking at the Guildhall, Pádraig Delargy agreed.

“By working together, we can deliver real change. That means building a health service that works, creating good jobs, building affordable homes and a first-class education for our children.

“And it means putting money in the pockets of ordinary people and working families to support them through the cost-of-living crisis.”

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill with Foyle Assembly candidates Padraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson.

Ciara Ferguson added: “Derry is a city in transformation with huge potential to grow and thrive.

“We are working to establish Derry as a modern city with more jobs and better infrastructure and to secure a reinvigorated north west’s place at the heart of a new and united Ireland.”

The candidatures were confirmed after Sinn Féin Vice President Ms O’Neill launched Sinn Fein’s election campaign at the Europa Hotel this week.

Speaking on Tuesday night, Ms O’Neill said the national political landscape “is shifting dramatically with people across our entire island demanding real change”.

She said Sinn Féin’s priority across Ireland was “putting families and workers first”.

“Our priority is to make politics work, and to show that real change is possible in making people’s everyday lives better.

“That means strengthening our health service, giving our children a world-class education, building affordable homes, making our communities safer, protecting our rural way of life and creating good jobs so the next generation has a future here.

“It means supporting workers and families struggling through this cost-of-living crisis which is placing a heavy burden on many households.

“Sinn Féin has made health a priority. Finance Minister Conor Murphy has delivered £200 million to transform the health service and support health workers and has committed to making health the Executive’s number one spending priority for the next three years.

“We are committed to investing in health, tackling waiting lists and ensuring you can see a GP when you need one.

“We need to protect the health service, resist Tory underfunding and attempts to dismantle the NHS.

“People rightly want their politicians to work together to prioritise these very important issues. The past two years has shown that power-sharing can work when all of those involved are invested and committed to it with unity of purpose and leadership.”

Ms O’Neill pointed to the forthcoming 24th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, stating: “This anniversary allows us an opportunity to reflect upon how far we have come, the journey of transformation we have all travelled. It allows us to assess the present realities which confront us in 2022, not least in the context of Brexit, and importantly Ireland’s future beyond Brexit.

“As of the 3 February when DUP First Minister resigned from Office our local Executive has been unable to meet and take decisions on behalf of the public we serve. This follows the DUPs unlawful boycott of the NSMC meetings. The DUP boycott of the Executive and NSMC amounts to an assault on the Good Friday Agreement itself. It is political vandalism,” she claimed, adding:

“Boris Johnson has acquiesced to this by staying silent, which tells us everything about his interest in the people, place and politics here. This is a Prime Minister and a government who never has, and never will prioritise the needs of the people here.

“I represent the Good Friday Agreement generation and I make no apology for fiercely defending it. I was in Washington over St Patrick’s with Mary Lou and Conor and we delivered this message, but also heard loud and clear that the US administration will not do a US-British trade deal if the Good Friday Agreement is jeopardised in any way. The solution to the Brexit problem is therefore the Protocol. And whilst imperfect it does mitigate the North of Ireland from the worst impacts of Brexit, prevents a hard border and stops the complete unravelling of the Good Friday Agreement, and it is a fact that no credible alternative to it exists.”

She said that recent security threats in North Belfast and Derry or attacks on the offices of public representatives “will not deter any of us”.

“The minority trying to draw us back will not win, this society is moving forward and peace and stability will always prevail.

“The forthcoming Assembly election on 5 May will return in my opinion a majority of MLAs who support the Protocol, and who respect the rule of law.”

When the Assembly, Executive and NSMC were restored in January 2020 it was with a shared commitment to deliver the public services, societal reforms and future that our people need and deserve.

Ms O’Neill said it was to the credit of all ministers from across the five parties in the north that they responded and have worked with a unity of purpose, and unity of leadership for the past two years.

“This is what the public want to see more of – co-operation and delivery. And the contrast to that is Jeffrey Donaldson warning that it will be ‘difficult’ for his party to re-enter the political institutions after the May 5th election. This is heard by those of us within nationalism as Unionism doing democracy on only unionism’s terms.

“Those who hanker for the past, who disrupt the present and who threaten our future need to realise that there is no going back, only forward. The facts are that the balance of power at Stormont has shifted irreversibly and political unionism must come to terms with the fact the world is moving on fast. So, while the DUP and the TUV are trying to take us backwards, our message is clear, we are only moving forward.

So it is yes to peace and stability; Yes to the GFA, Yes to the Protocol, Yes to a First Minister for All, Yes to Irish language rights, Yes to abortion rights, Yes to integrated education.

“Sinn Féin will be defending, not re-negotiating the Good Friday Agreement now, or in the time ahead. We will not be shifting any goalposts to satisfy unionism before, or after elections.

“This is now about those of us who want to work together to make the Assembly, Executive and All-Ireland institutions work, to deliver on health, housing, education and jobs, to deliver social change and economic prosperity – taking advantage of our dual market access to the British and EU single markets.

“We have delivered in the Executive to support workers and families. Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has delivered the biggest shakeup of the housing system for over 50 years with plans to building 100,000 social and affordable homes. Sinn Féin is also working to improve the planning system for rural communities. Sinn Féin is working to strengthen workers’ rights by introducing legislation to ban Zero Hour contracts; to give paid-leave to carers and supporting and widening paid leave for parents who have suffered bereavement.

“Sinn Féin Finance Minister Conor Murphy has made paying workers the living wage a requirement for any company getting a government contract. Sinn Féin wants to build a stronger and fairer economy and drive the potential of the all-Ireland economy to improve the quality of jobs and to raise incomes for workers north and south. It is time for new leadership of the economy department.

The rise in living costs and fuel and electricity price hikes are placing huge pressure on workers and families.

“Sinn Féin has delivered a £200 energy payment to over 280,000 people. We have called on the Tories to scrap VAT on energy bills to cut household costs. The British Chancellor’s statement last week did little to help struggling households, and particularly those on universal credit and other benefits. But we need to stay united and keep going at the Tories until we achieve change.

“Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has binned the bedroom tax, to protect thousands of people from this cruel Tory tax. Sinn Féin ministers are working every day to put money back in the pockets of ordinary people.”

Turning to the forthcoming election she said that this was “the most important election in a generation”.

“I am delighted that Sinn Féin will be standing a total of 34 candidates, across all 18 constituencies. Over 50% of Sinn Féin’s candidates are female. This election is about the future.

“It is time for real change, and Sinn Féin is leading that change across Ireland. Sinn Féin’s priority is to make politics work, to demonstrate that real change is possible to lead that change. Working together we can prioritise health, housing and education and use the protocol to create better jobs in a stronger economy. We can build a modern progressive society based on fairness and equality.

“On fifth May this election has the potential to be bring about an historic and seismic shift in the political landscape. Huge change is on the horizon. It’s not enough to live through it, we must shape and lead it. It is a time now for real change. It’s time for the big ideas. But, most importantly it’s time for the type of change that delivers the ambitions for each and every person who shares our island. Go raibh maith agaibh.”