Arlene Foster prepared to work with Michelle O’Neill

New Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland calls for ‘step-change in attitude’ from DUP

DUP leader Arlene Foster said she "will have to work" with the new Sinn Féin northern leader Michelle O'Neill if the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly can be restored after the Assembly elections on March 2nd.

The Assembly was formally dissolved on Thursday, following the controversy about the botched renewable energy scheme, which could yet cost Northern Ireland taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds over the next two decades.

On Tuesday, the Sinn Féin Minister for Finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir announced that retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin would chair a public inquiry into the "cash-for-ash" scheme.

DUP Minister for the Economy Simon Hamilton had been scheduled yesterday to release a full or partial list of about 2,000 farmers and business people who availed of the scheme which offered users £1.60 for every £1 they invested.


However, the High Court in Belfast on Tuesday issued a temporary ban on the publication of 300 people who installed boilers, casting doubt on whether some or all of the other names could be published.

For now, the Department of the Economy cannot say if or when names can be published, saying Mr Hamilton “will reflect” on the court’s judgment “to ensure maximum transparency on the details” of the scheme.

Meanwhile, the DUP leader travelled to Stormont on Wednesday to stand outside Parliament Buildings with her party's candidates for 90 seats in 18 constituencies across Northern Ireland.

Asked if she would work with Ms O’Neill who replaced Martin McGuinness as Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland on Monday, she replied, “Well, of course, she has been appointed by Sinn Féin, so I will have to work with Michelle O’Neill as the leader of Sinn Féin.

Functioning devolution

“We need now to get to the far side of the election so that we can put these institutions back in place to make them work for the people of Northern Ireland. People do want devolution and they want devolution to work,” added Ms Foster.

Saying that she would be “front and centre” in the DUP’s campaign, Ms Foster said she would be asking people to look at her record over the past 10 years as a minister and to “put me back as the first minister”.

Rejecting charges from political opponents and certain sections of the media that she lacked humility, the DUP leader said: “I believe the people of Northern Ireland know exactly who I am.

“They can speak to me, they can talk to me. Everyone knows I’m very open to people coming and having those conversations. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing over the next five weeks,” she said.

The Sinn Féin northern leader Ms O’Neill said that, in the anticipated post-elections negotiations, she had “no illusions about what’s required to put the lights back on at Stormont”.

“There needs to be a step-change in the attitude of the DUP and a determination from both governments to restore equality and parity of esteem as the foundation of power-sharing,” she said. “Sinn Féin are always in resolution mode and that is how we will approach these negotiations. But if there is to be any prospect of success, then everyone needs to show the political will to make that happen,” said Ms O’Neill.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times