SInn Féin Leas-Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill says lack of clarity on Assembly election adding to ‘political limbo’

Sinn Féin Leas-Uachtarán Michelle O’Neill has said the British Secretary of State has ‘failed to give any clarity’ about when he will fulfil his legal obligations to call an Assembly election.

Speaking after meeting Chris Heaton-Harris in Belfast on Monday, Michelle O’Neill said that the north was now without an Assembly, Executive or even caretaker ministers ‘to support people during a cost of living crisis as a result of the DUP’s boycott of our political institutions’.

“We put it to Chris Heaton-Harris today that his indecision is adding to the instability caused by the DUP, and it has left society in political limbo,” Michelle O’Neill said.

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“Workers and families are struggling to put food on the table and businesses are struggling to keep the shutters up.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O'Neill and Connor Murphy speaking to the media outside Erskine House, Belfast Northern Ireland after meeting Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. Picture date: Tuesday November 1, 2022.

“Our health service and health workers are under huge pressure and need urgent investment. They want and deserve parties working together to support them.

“I told the British Secretary of State that he has a responsibility to help the political situation but that the current vacuum is clearly unhelpful and cannot continue.

“That will also be my message to the British and Irish governments and to the US administration.”

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris MP spoke with NI party leaders this week following the failure to restore the NI Executive.

Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Stephen Hamilton/Presseye)

Following the meetings in Belfast, he stressed that he was now under a legal duty to call an election as set out in the New Decade New Approach agreement.

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He also expressed particular concern about the state of Stormont’s finances, which half way through the financial year are forecasting a £661m overspend.

Mr Heaton-Harris also discussed MLA pay, and how he would be looking at taking action on this should the Executive fail to re-form. Since the election in May, MLAs have been paid more than £3 million, despite not being able to conduct business.

He held meetings with Jeffrey Donaldson, Michelle O’Neill, Naomi Long and Doug Beattie with talks also taking place this week between Mr Heaton-Harris and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday.

Commenting after the meetings, Heaton-Harris said: “There are important issues of government to be dealt with due to the absence of ministers. I am particularly worried that the Executive has an enormous black hole in its budget, which potentially has serious implications for the delivery of many of Northern Ireland’s public services. Measures to set a budget will be required in the short term.”

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Speaking after the meeting DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said: “Not one single unionist MLA or MP supports the Protocol. We need a solid foundation for devolved government to flourish. One which can command the support of unionists as well as nationalists. There will be no basis for an Executive and Assembly until the Protocol is replaced with arrangements that restore Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K. internal market and our constitutional arrangements are respected.”

He added: “This is a matter for the Secretary of State and the speculation is of his own making. Let’s be clear though, unionism is uniting behind our message. We are ready for an election, and I will happily renew, and strengthen the mandate we already have for the action we have taken.”