British-Irish group will meet to form plan for Stormont restoration, says Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Féin vice-president calls on UK and Dublin governments to come together after party’s historic win in NI council elections

Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has confirmed a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference will be held to establish a plan for Stormont’s restoration.

The First Minister-designate had called on the UK and Dublin governments to come together following her party’s historic win at Northern Ireland’s council elections, with Sinn Féin taking the largest number of seats and outpolling the DUP for the first time.

“The two governments will come together . . . it’s now time for them both to come together as co-guarantors,” she said on Wednesday.

“Let’s have a plan on the table, how are we going to restore the Executive.”


Stormont’s power-sharing institutions have been down for more than a year due to the DUP’s ongoing protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The growth in the nationalist vote at local government level replicated the Assembly polls last year and has strengthened the case for “how we transition” to a united Ireland, according to Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who believes a Border poll will happen in “this decade”.

At the launch of a new report at a “peace summit” event organised by the John and Pat Hume Foundation in Belfast on Wednesday, Lord Jonathan Caine, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Northern Ireland Office, insisted that the circumstances currently did not exist that would “warrant the secretary of state to call a Border poll”.

“As far the UK government is concerned, we believe there is still a clear majority here for the current constitutional arrangements,” he told The Irish Times.

“And really the priority for the [UK] government is to make Northern Ireland work, to get the institutions back up and running, to get Stormont back to deliver for the people and to address their priorities.”

Ms O’Neill and party colleague Conor Murphy met Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris at Hillsborough Castle on Wednesday, where they discussed the impasse.

Afterwards, she criticised his attempts to restore the Executive, saying they lacked urgency.

In the absence of Stormont, the Northern Secretary sets the budget, which has been branded a “punishment budget” by the North’s political parties due to multimillion cuts to public services.

“This is not acceptable and not tolerable, so what we wanted to impress upon himself [Heaton-Harris] today was: what is the plan for the restoration of the Executive?” Ms O’Neill said.

“It’s unfortunate to say I don’t believe there’s any urgency there on his part. I think that was certainly our reflection of the conversation that we just had.”

Meanwhile, the NI Police Federation, the union that represents rank-and-file police officers, has accused Stormont of failing them by its “stop-start” politics.

Federation chair Liam Kelly criticised politicians for “throwing the teddies out of the pram” over the Northern Ireland protocol and urged them to end their “squabbling” and go back into power-sharing.

“Stormont is not working. Selective withdrawals from the Executive can no longer be tolerated. If that means going back to the drawing board to remove vetoes, then so be it. Northern Ireland cannot afford to be held back by this crude device,” he told RTÉ following the union’s annual conference in Limavady.

“If there is a problem, sort it out across the table, walking away isn’t the solution. We want real and effective government, a realistic and effective three-year budget for the police service. An end to the stop-start local government that results in our inability to maximise locally, nationally and internationally the promises, future and hope envisaged from the 1998 agreement.

“In this the 25th anniversary of the agreement, prove to us all that it was worth it by getting back to work on building the new Northern Ireland.” – Additional reporting: PA

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham

Seanín Graham is Northern Correspondent of The Irish Times