Sinn Féin will ‘defend but not renegotiate’ Belfast Agreement

Party leader in North tells election gathering DUP collapse of Executive ‘political vandalism’

Sinn Féin will defend but not renegotiate the Belfast Agreement, party deputy leader Michelle O'Neill has said.

Speaking at an election launch event in Belfast city centre, Ms O’Neill said those who hanker for the past need to realise that there is no going back, only forward”.

Delivering a speech at the Europa Hotel, Sinn Féin's Stormont leader described the DUP's collapse of the Northern Ireland powersharing Executive as "political vandalism".

She said: “When the Assembly, Executive and North-South Ministerial Council were restored in January 2020 it was with a shared commitment to deliver the public services, societal reforms and future that our people need and deserve.

“It was ambitious to form a five-party coalition Executive, but it was achieved . . . no one could have predicted that in only a matter of weeks that our Executive would be dealing with a global pandemic . . . It is to the credit of all ministers from across the five parties that they responded and have worked with a unity of purpose . . . this is what the public want to see more of – co-operation and delivery.”

Ms O'Neill added: "And the contrast to that is Jeffrey Donaldson warning that it will be difficult for his party to re-enter the political institutions after the May 5th election.

“This is heard by those of us within nationalism as unionism doing democracy on only unionism’s terms. Those who hanker for the past, who disrupt the present and who threaten our future need to realise that there is no going back, only forward.

“The facts are that the balance of power at Stormont has shifted irreversibly and political unionism must come to terms with the fact the world is moving on fast.

“Sinn Féin will be defending, not renegotiating the Good Friday Agreement now, or in the time ahead. We will not be shifting any goalposts to satisfy unionism before, or after elections.”

Ms O’Neill said the election is the “most important in a generation”.

Sinn Féin leader’s address

She said her party would be standing 34 candidates across the 18 constituencies, with more than half female.The Sinn Féin deputy leader said that a security alert in Belfast last week during a visit by the Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney was futile.

“The type of futile security threats we saw over the last week in north Belfast and Derry or attacks on the offices of public representatives will not deter any of us.

“The minority trying to draw us back will not win.”

The event was also addressed by Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald who said the success of the next Stormont administration would be based on delivery.

“People have got a glimpse in recent months of what is possible from an Assembly and an Executive that gets a chance to deliver. The first thing that Michelle O’Neill did when the DUP walked away from the Executive was to convene a meeting of party leaders to get work done,” she said.

“And it worked – the Assembly has passed legislation after legislation on climate, on housing, on women’s rights and supports for people dealing with the cost-of-living crisis.

“And this has been matched by initiative after initiative from ministers at Executive level, despite the actions of a Tory government constantly undermining the Good Friday Agreement and trying to slow down the change that is coming.

“For me the last few months are a small window into what is possible when parties with a vision for a better future are liberated to work together. Imagine a full term of that sort of leadership and that sort of delivery.” – PA