The Sinn Féin Ard Fheis has heard this weekend that the Stormont Assembly could be restored in the New Year.
Speaking to delegates at the party’s annual conference in Derry, the former Sinn Féin Assembly member for Newry and mourne, Conor Murphy, said it is now ‘make your mind up time” for the hardline unionist DUP, its former partners in the powersharing Executive in Belfast.
Mr Murphy said Sinn Féin remained ready to engage in political talks, but that progress was dependent on all parties approaching dialogue “in the same spirit that secured the Good Friday Agreement 21 years ago”.
Following years of political stalemate, the power-sharing government collapsed in January 2017 over the exposure of a corrupt renewable heating scheme. Any chance that it could be restored fell away with the formation of a confidence and supply agreement between the Conservative Party and the DUP in June of that year.
British Direct Ruler Julian Smith has said in the absence of a deal to get Stormont up and running, an assembly election would be called in January. Smith said such an election would “mark a failure for every politician” involved, and noted that Assembly Members had continued to receive a salary over the three years since they last met.
Referring to the confidence and supply agreement, Mr Murphy said the DUP/Tory pact was “the biggest single opposition to the restoration of the institutions.”
Now, he said, “as Gerry Adams had predicted, it has all ended in tears. The lessons of Parnell, Redmond and even Carson continue to be lost on those who think they can influence Westminster in their interests.”
Mr Murphy told delegates that Sinn Féin wanted “genuine sustainable power sharing with all of the parties taking their place at the Executive” and “the promise of Good Friday” fulfilled. “The sooner we get down to that task that better for us all,” he said.
He was one of a number of Sinn Féin elected representatives who spoke to the thousand-strong crowd at the party’s ardfheis in the Millennium Forum in Derry on Saturday morning.
In a reference to the electoral challenge from the rival nationalist SDLP, who have said they will take up their seats in contrast to SF, Sinn Féin Deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said “one or two isolated MPs in Westminster cannot make a difference” and urged those present to re-elect the party’s seven MPs and an eighth, the current Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane.
“Joining the magnificent seven will be John Finucane as MP for North Belfast,” she said.
The TD for Sligo-Leitrim, Martin Kenny, was greeted with a standing ovation as he took to the podium.
Earlier this month his car was destroyed in an arson attack outside his home in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim. He had supported a proposal to accommodate asylum seekers in Ballinamore, despite a protest from a local community group.
He acknowledged the delegates’ response, and said it was important to make a stand for people and “to make a stand for a new Ireland.”
He appreciated everyone who had sent good wishes “and who were there for my family during this period.”