Reform of GFA would shift goalposts

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Sinn Féin’s First Minister-designate Michelle O’Neill argues that there should be no fundamental change to the Good Friday Agreement without the consent of the people.

 

In May the electorate voted in huge numbers in an historic election with Sinn Féin topping the poll. We now have the largest number of votes on this island.

We are living through a time of major change and opportunity.

The national political landscape is shifting with people across Ireland demanding real change.

Our priority is to make politics work through co-operation and partnership with others.

That means strengthening our health service, giving children a world-class education, building affordable homes, making communities safer, protecting our rural way of life, and creating good jobs.

It means supporting workers and families struggling through this cost-of-living crisis and making health a priority.

Conor Murphy committed to making health the Executive’s number one spending priority for the next three years with an extra £1bn investment.

We need to protect the health service after 12 years of Tory cuts and attempts to dismantle the NHS.

Sinn Féin has worked with other parties in government showing unity of purpose and leadership. Power-sharing works well when there is trust and we focus on what we can solve together.

In February 2022 the DUP collapsed the Executive after a series of polls showed their support had fallen, and they cynically used the protocol issue to do that.

The DUP has now refused to accept the result of May’s election, using the protocol as a pretence not to serve with a nationalist First Minister.

Sinn Féin believes the protocol is necessary. It can work more smoothly and checks at our ports can be substantially reduced to ease business and trade.

The British government now need to get into serious negotiations with the EU to find joint solutions sooner rather than later.

Neither the Assembly nor the Executive has any role in these negotiations.

The DUP is punishing the public and polarising our politics by continuing to block power-sharing.

Local politicians have no say because of this democratic deficit, civil servants have few powers. This has led to calls born of frustration from some quarters for reform of the Good Friday Agreement itself.

I believe reform at this stage equates to shifting the goalposts agreed by the people in referenda north and south, and no fundamental change should occur without their consent.

The Assembly & Executive Review Committee is the established and appropriate forum for discussing changes to how the institutions can function better. Sinn Féin is part of that discussion with other parties.

However, the DUP should not be given cover for their refusal to accept the May election result, which would see me installed as First Minister.

To discard the Good Friday Agreement safeguards and protections or governance arrangements would be a mistake. Carefully and painstakingly negotiated, they represent a political accommodation, and while nothing is ever permanent, now isn’t the time to assist the Tories or DUP in unravelling it.

The Tories have led an anti-GFA agenda for a decade, while using pro-agreement rhetoric. This needs confronted and I particularly welcome the unequivocal commitment of President Biden to the Agreement.

Next April marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. Plan A is to restore government and get MLAs back to work before then. Democratic self-government is the only show in town. Reform must mean more devolved powers from London so local ministers can take decisions in the best interests of people here. This is something all parties can unite on.

Sinn Féin seeks partnership, not division, with unionism, but we also want to work and serve those who are neither unionist or nationalist.

Standing still on narrow ground is not an option for any party. I will not give up on working to form Executive to join with others to deliver the change that people want.

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