By Michelle O’Neill MLA
The political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are unique. They were endorsed by the people north and south in referenda following decades of conflict, discrimination, division, and inequality.
The institutions provided a peaceful and democratic process for constitutional change, for reconciliation and for equality. They are part of the peace process. They do not operate like the Dail, Westminster, Edinburgh, or Cardiff.
Sinn Fein entered the Executive on the basis of our mandate. We took our seats and since 2007 jointly led the Executive under Martin McGuinness because we believe in power sharing, we believe in equality and because we honour our agreements.
We were in the Executive because we wanted to be there and we wanted the institutions to work.
It is clear the DUP were only there because they had to be. They had no alternative and sought to undermine the agreements and institutions. They have been allowed to do this under the watch of the Tory and Fine Gael-led governments
Rather than embracing diversity and parity of esteem, the DUP chose to mock and pillory the Irish language and identity. The rights of Irish Speakers to a language act agreed at St Andrews, was dismissed and those making the demand likened to crocodiles.
They blocked marriage equality and repeatedly descended into racist, sexist and homophobic attitudes and actions.
They stood with the Tories on Brexit against the majority of the people and against the interests of the economy.
And their mishandling of the RHI scandal and the allegations of corruption associated with the scheme is what ultimately brought the institutions down. It is a cost that will be paid by a generation of our citizens and impact on the public services of all.
This is not an Orange and Green issue, this is an issue of integrity.
No government can expect to work without integrity. No administration can expect to enjoy public confidence and support if it isn’t underpinned by honesty and equality.
Sinn Fein has made it clear that we will not accept Arlene Foster back in office until the RHI inquiry has reported.
We have told the British and Irish Governments that there must be fundamental change if there is to be any return to the institutions.
When other parties ran away from their responsibilities, we took a stand and called time on the DUP’s bigotry and arrogance.
The DUP promised a brutal campaign and from the outset have sought to sectarianise the election, to make it an issue of who would be First Minister despite the fact there will be no first minister without the support of Sinn Fein.
They want the election to be about the past.
They want the election to be about anything other than the waste that is RHI or the arrogance and contempt displayed to citizens.
The UUP and SDLP have attempted to present themselves as some alternative, parties, which cannot agree in opposition or even commit to a voting pact. If we get the votes and if the Executive is re-established, Sinn Fein will take our ministerial positions in line with the Good Friday Agreement and powersharing.
In contrast the UUP and SDLP are fighting this election to return to the safety of the opposition benches.
The old unionist one-party rule failed, direct rule failed, arrogance has failed. Power sharing on the basis of equality, respect and integrity can succeed, if there is the political will to fully implement agreements made.
This election and the negotiations, which follow, are about the future.
We are determined to rebuild the political process but it must be on the basis of genuinely progressive power-sharing where we work with one another in the best interests of everyone in society.
An agreement made must be an agreement implemented.
What we win in the time ahead, we win for all.
That is what I am asking the public to endorse when they go to the polls on March 2nd.