Sinn Féin agree to return to Stormont

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Three years after they collapsed, Sinn Féin has made a decision to return to the partitionist institutions at Stormont, with party leader Mary Lou McDonald stating that it is the “responsibility of every party to ensure the Executive meets”.

Ms McDonald said the party was “ready to do business” and was ready to go back into the Six-County Executive and to make its nominations for First Minister and Deputy First Minister, to be held by the DUP and Sinn Féin respectively. She said that the party was doing this “on the basis that now we rebuild complete power-sharing.”

She said believed all of the North’s parties should now enter the Six-County Executive and abandon the idea of an “opposition”.

The Dublin and London governments published the draft text on Thursday night as a basis for the restoration of the power-sharing institutions. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there was a real chance that by Monday the Belfast Assembly and Executive would be back up and running.

The draft deal entitled ‘New Decade, New Approach’ sets out a number of wide-ranging priorities for a restored Executive. There are significant and complex changes to the petition of concern (unionist veto), particularly its use to block Ministerial decisions by nationalists.

It includes provision for legislative changes which would create an Irish Language Commissioner and an “Ulster British Language Commissioner”, who would represent the Ulster Scots language and culture.

The measures fall short of Sinn Féin’s long-standing demand for Irish Language Act, but in her announcement today, Ms McDonald insisted “we now have Acht Gaeilge with official legal recognition of the Irish language for the first time”.

The party has also quietly abandoned its call for DUP leader Arlene Foster to step aside over RHI corruption scandal. Ms McDonald however rejected “in the strongest possible terms” new British governments commitments to the DUP on flags and other issues relating to symbolism.

“These are not part of this agreement. In our view they fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement and they represent bad faith. It is disappointing that the Irish government acquiesced to these measures, she said.

“But we now have a basis to restore powersharing, and we are up for that.”

Referring to recent legislation at Westminster Ms McDonald said there has been progress on abortion provision and on same-sex marriage.

Mrs McDonald added: “I believe that powersharing can work. It requires everyone to step up. Sinn Féin’s commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen. We need to have an inclusive executive. At these historic times we will also continue to work for Irish reunification and we want to ensure that the criteria for the triggering of an Irish unity poll are set out and that planning for Irish Unity is stepped up. Including the convening of the national forum to discuss and plan for the future.

“Three years ago, Martin McGuinness set down a challenge to all of us to get it right and deliver for all, for every single citizen. And now we need to go to work.”

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) was the first to react to the publication of the draft text on Thursday night, with the leader Arlene Foster issuing a statement shortly afterwards. “On balance,” she said, “we believe there is a basis upon which the Assembly and Executive can be re-established in a fair and balanced way.”

Dublin’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said that he hopes Sinn Féin will “sell” the deal to republicans.

The three smaller parties - the SDLP, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) - are also holding meetings today.

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