Change, sharing power and building for the future

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By Mary Lou McDonald

The former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once famously said that a week was a long time in politics – if ever that was evident it was here in the north over the past seven days.

Indeed, it was Wilson who held power as the old northern state and the unionist regime in Stormont imploded in the late 1960s, unable to cope with basic demands for equality and rights.

And in many ways, it is still that failure to accept rights and equality which has been at the root of the political storm within unionism that we have witnessed over the course of recent days.

The outworking of Brexit and the decision of the DUP to support it, the inevitable disaster of the post-election pact with the English Tories and the loss of the unionist majority in Stormont have created a political landscape which many within the leadership of the DUP seem incapable of reconciling themselves to.

Ireland has changed. The north is a fast-changing society. The political institutions still have to catch up with this.

The balance of power has shifted irreversibly and that is now reflected around the Executive table and in the make-up of the Assembly.

Seeking to recreate political conditions which have gone and gone forever is the roadmap to exactly the sort of political cul-de-sac which we have witnessed in the course of the past seven days.

I take no comfort from the events of the past week.

We want to see functioning political institutions. But institutions whose success is not measured in the ability to stay afloat but measured in the impact they have on citizens lives.

An Executive and Assembly:

that guarantee and promote rights.

with equality and respect at their core.

that develops our economy, drives opportunity and protects workers’ rights.

Sinn Féin will not stand by while rights are denied to women, the LGBTQ Community, Gaeilgeorí or anyone else.

I am glad to say that Acht na Gaeilge and the wider language and culture package is now concluded and legislation will be coming forward at Westminster in October, followed by the appointment of language Commissioners. But fifteen years is far too long to wait for such basic rights to be recognised.

Tá mé sásta a fhógairt go bhfuil Acht na Gaeilge agus an beart teanga / cultúir réitithe anois agus go dtiocfaidh an reachtaíocht os comhair Westminister i nDeireadh Fómhair. Roghnofar na Coimisineirí ina dhiaidh.

Yesterday I spoke with the new DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson and we will meet next week. The question facing him is whether he is up for real partnership, real power-sharing, for political institutions that deliver? If the answer to those questions is Yes then he will find a willing partner in the Sinn Féin team under Michelle O’Neill.

A partner who wants to get on with the task of delivering better public services, tackling the Hospital waiting lists, building decent homes and managing the economy out of Covid.

A partner who will continue to give voice to those who have none, and who will work across party lines in both the Assembly and the Executive in achieving rights for women, Irish language speakers, newcomer communities and every section of the people who live here.

A Ministerial team with Michelle alongside Conor Murphy, Deirdre Hargey and Declan Kearney working in the Executive to meet the real challenges facing us as we move out of the pandemic.

But being part of a real partnership government is making and sticking to agreements.

All of the parties and the two governments signed on for New Decade New Approach.

Its implementation is not a point of negotiation. It is an obligation on us all.

The failure of the DUP to meet this basic political benchmark and to obstruct basic rights is not the basis upon which effective partnership government can be built.

I believe that this approach by the DUP is way out of sync with wider society including many within the unionist community.

There are many people within the broader unionist people who value the LGBTQ community, who value and embrace diversity and who see no threat from Irish Language Rights.

They want to live in peace, to raise their family in a community based upon decency and respect, they have no truck with sectarianism or triumphalism. They don’t see their politics in terms of victory and defeat. They are confident in their own identity.

And likewise with Brexit and the approach to the Protocol the DUP are not in step with broad public opinion including many within wider unionism.

Brexit and Brexiteers sought to isolate the north from the rest of Europe against the democratic wishes of a majority of the people. The DUP will be making another political error if they seek to endanger the political stability of the institutions over the consequences of the outworking of their Brexit policy.

Níl bunús leis an Phrotacál a scriosadh. Is é dea-thoil agus úsáid a bhaint as an Choiste Roinnte na modhanna le dushlán agus deacrachtaí a réiteach.

Is féidir teacht ar réiteach agus bím soiléir anseo: Tá an protacal ag teastal de dheacsa nach ar mhaithe le hÉirinn nó an Tuaiseacht é Brexit.

Talk of abolishing the Irish Protocol are not grounded in reality.

Good faith engagement and use of the Joint Committee is the only mechanism to address challenges and difficulties.

Solutions can be found and we see evidence of that today but let me be clear: We need the protocol because Brexit is bad news for Ireland and for the north in particular.

The DUP need to work alongside the rest of us to meet the challenges and maximise the opportunities of the Irish protocol. Businesses want the Protocol to work, and they expect their political leaders to work together to deliver on solutions to the practical challenges they face.

Change is in the air and many are assessing the type of future that is possible.

Can it be better than the past?

Can it be better than the status quo?

Of course, it can.

The pace of this discourse is accelerating, both inside and outside of the political systems in London, in Belfast and in Dublin.

I firmly believe that within this decade the people will have the opportunity to freely choose new constitutional and political arrangements on this island, as underpinned by the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

Everyone who has a stake in this transformation from across this island must be involved in designing what shape that takes.

Far from diluting unionist tradition or British identity and culture in any future arrangements, these rights like others must be guaranteed.

Last weekend Tánaiste and Fine Gael Leo Varadkar made a very welcome political intervention saying that the time to start planning for Irish Unity is now. I hope that he and the government of which he is a part is as good as his word and will start this process now.

Let me be clear, there is no contradiction in working within a functioning power-sharing government while building for a new united shared Ireland.

So, while the different parties in the Executive at this time may hold different and legitimate visions for the future, power sharing and the primacy of a democratic, respectful and tolerant must be the order of the day as we forge a path forward in common cause, demonstrating a unity of purpose for all of our people.

Throughout the Covid pandemic this has been the approach of the five parties within the Executive and I believe they have done a good job.

In the days ahead it is critical that political stability be restored. That is the minimum people expect.

Sinn Féin stands ready to renominate Michelle O’Neill as Deputy First Minister.

We will play our part.

We don’t seek to humiliate or profit from the dysfunction within the DUP.

But we will stand firm on basic rights and entitlements. These are not up for discussion or negotiation. We are well past that time.

Now is the time for implementation.

Now is the time for respect and equality.

Now is the time for genuine and real partnership.

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