Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill targeted by dissident plot
Deputy First Minister says she will not be deterred by threats after attending PSNI event
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill with MLA Gerry Kelly speaking in Parliament Buildings in Belfast. Photograph: Rebecca Black/PA Wire
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has said she will not be deterred after learning of a dissident plot against her.
The Deputy First Minister said she had been told by the PSNI that they have received intelligence of a plan by dissidents to attack both her and Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly.
It comes one week after Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly attended a PSNI recruitment event, a move which chief constable Simon Byrne hailed as “seismic and historic”.
It was the first time such a senior Sinn Féin figure had attended a recruitment campaign launch for the PSNI and came amid concern that progress to address underrepresentation of Catholic officers in the organisation has stalled and is starting to go in a backward direction.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the threats against Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly, saying there is “no place for threats or violence”.
Speaking at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said that she and Mr Kelly are taking precautions as a consequence, and vowed to protect their families.
“I have been told by the PSNI that they have intelligence that dissident republicans are planning an attack against myself and Gerry Kelly,” Ms O’Neill said.
“We have families, I have two children, I have a mother who will be very worried; Gerry has family who will also be very worried, so we have to protect our families.
“But we have a job to do, we are elected, we have a mandate, we want to bring about change. We are trying to build a better society and we will not be deterred by people who do not have a strategy to move forward in terms of the Irish republican project.”
Police told them about the threat on Tuesday.
It comes after a weekend of significant gains for Sinn Féin in the Irish general election.
“We are also aware this comes on the back of both myself and Gerry attending the PSNI recruitment fair last week,” Ms O’Neill said.
“So let me be very clear, dissident republicans have no strategy, they have no plan, they have no progress towards Irish unity and I think this intelligence comes at a time when we have never been closer to Irish unity.
“I will not be deterred. Gerry Kelly will not be deterred. Sinn Féin will not be deterred from trying to build a better society.”
In a statement Ms Foster said: “We live in a democracy. The ballot box is how we effect change, not through the bomb or bullet.
“Whether in 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2020, violence from every hue must be condemned. There is no place for threats or violence.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned the threats against Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly as “an attack not just on one party but on the peace we’ve all fought for”.
“Those behind it are setting themselves against the Irish people and they will never win. My thoughts are with Michelle, Gerry and their families today,” he posted on Twitter. – PA