SF chief calls for move on Irish language and same-sex marriage
Mary Lou McDonald urges governments to bridge political gap on contentious issues
Mary Lou McDonald: “I believe the powersharing institutions are the best, the only option to chart a way forward together; to navigate the big societal change we face.” File photograph: The Irish Times
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has called on the British and Irish governments to press ahead with changes to legislation in areas such as the Irish language and same-sex marriage.
Ms McDonald was speaking at Queen’s University, Belfast, on Monday night on the long-running deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Féin that since January last year has prevented the restoration of the Northern Executive and Assembly.
Failure to resolve matters such as an Irish language Act and legislating for gay marriage resulted in continuing stalemate.
Ms McDonald said that in order to unblock the logjam Dublin and London must convene a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
“The Intergovernmental Conference must produce a plan, a pathway to bring forward the legislation and resources to secure these rights and implement the agreements,” she said.
“The governments must secure these rights, consistent with the agreements, to loosen the political deadlock and provide a pathway back to genuine powersharing,” she added. “This a common-sense approach. It is a challenge to a British government that is dependent on the DUP. It is also a significant challenge to the DUP to embrace the spirit of powersharing and full equality.”
Ms McDonald said “the rights of Irish speakers as agreed in St Andrews, the legacy mechanisms agreed in Stormont House and the right to marriage equality – available in the South and across Britain – remain” and “cannot be further delayed”.
“A right delayed is a right denied. It is time to move on, to implement the agreements and to secure these rights,” she added.
Ms McDonald issued her call as identical private members’ bills are being tabled in the House of Lords and the House of Commons this week, one by a Conservative peer Lord Hayward and the other by a Labour MP, Conor McGinn, a native of south Armagh.
The Sinn Féin leader also rejected proposals from parties such as the DUP and Alliance for, in the absence of a fully functioning Executive, the creation of a shadow assembly to monitor Northern Ireland-related decisions taken at Westminster.
“Any proposal for a shadow assembly is not a move forward. It represents a step away from powersharing. A shadow assembly would make us all bystanders to direct rule, giving a veneer of accountability to direct rule,” she said.
“Sinn Féin will not countenance direct rule,” added Ms McDonald in her Queen’s University policy engagement public lecture.
“I believe the powersharing institutions are the best, the only option to chart a way forward together; to navigate the big societal change we face.”
She also restated Sinn Féin opposition to Brexit. “I don’t believe that there are any opportunities in Brexit. It runs contrary to our agreements, our economic interests and the rights of all our people,” she said.
“While there are undoubtedly major issues and legitimate concerns with the direction of the European project, Brexit is not the answer,” she added. “Brexit reflects the inability of some to reconcile themselves with the present and to plan for the future. Those behind Brexit glory in nostalgia for the past; an imperial past that is gone, that is not coming back. Brexit is fundamentally about the failure to recognise that the world has moved on.”