McDonald says ‘mistruths and inaccuracies peddled’ about draft agreement

Sinn Féin leader to give draft agreement with DUP to British and Irish governments

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill and the party’s  president, Mary Lou McDonald,  at a press conference in Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, on Thursday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill and the party’s president, Mary Lou McDonald, at a press conference in Parliament Buildings in Stormont, Belfast, on Thursday. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has provided detail of a draft agreement she said her party struck with the DUP before Northern talks collapsed on Wednesday because of differences over the Irish language.

The draft agreement included three pieces of legislation designed to get over the deadlock of unionist opposition to a stand-alone Irish language Act, the Sinn Féin president said at Stormont on Thursday.

Ms McDonald did not release the full detail of the draft agreement but said she would provide copies to the British and Irish governments and brief Assembly and Dáil parties on its contents.

She said a lot of “mistruths and inaccuracies have been peddled” about the content of the draft agreement.

She confirmed that three Acts were proposed to try to get over the hurdle of unionist antagonism to a single Irish language Act. Sources said this was designed to allow Sinn Féin say it had got its free-standing Act while unionists could say the three Acts were interlocked.

“For the record, the draft record included an Irish language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a respecting language and diversity Act,” said McDonald.

“The Irish language Act included provision for official recognition of Irish and the creation of an Irish language commissioner. The repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts was also to be legislated for,” she said.

Unnerved unionism

Addressing some reports about the Irish Act that unnerved unionism, Ms McDonald added: “It did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration.”

Ms McDonald said there was “no meeting of minds” on Sinn Féin’s call for same-sex marriage legislation. “We anticipate that this issue will be fully considered by the Assembly in the form of a Private Members’ Bill and it is acknowledged that no party alone can table a petition of concern [to block such legislation],” she said.

“There was also agreement to review the abuse of the petition of concern and establishing a committee to look at the Bill of Rights,” she added.

Ms McDonald said separate from the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin there was a commitment from the British government to put to consultation the legacy mechanisms in the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement and that funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice for Troubles-related inquests would be released.

Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin accepted the DUP proposals on sustainability of the institutions.

Sensitive portfolio

She said there also was agreement that the British government would legislate so that the Executive justice minister was elected in the same manner as other ministers for the Assembly elections in 2022. This would likely mean that a DUP or Sinn Féin, rather than an Alliance member as has hitherto been the case, would hold that sensitive portfolio in four years’ time.

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill said “if the DUP leadership had closed the deal last week the Executive would be on the cusp of being re-established to implement the agreement, set a budget and work to deliver for all”.

“Given that the DUP leadership has now prevented this, the two governments must now move ahead to implement existing agreements on legacy and an Irish language Act and meet their obligations for equality, by bringing forward legislation on marriage equality,” she said.

Ms O’Neill said Sinn Féin was on Thursday evening contacting British prime minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss the situation.