Home ireland Varadkar and Sunak need to chair meeting to plot Stormont return — SF

Varadkar and Sunak need to chair meeting to plot Stormont return — SF

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Varadkar and Sunak need to chair meeting to plot Stormont return — SF

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Rishi Sunak need to co-chair a summit meeting to chart a course back to devolution at Stormont, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has said.

The party insisted its success in the local government elections was a “monumental endorsement” of its call for the power-sharing institutions to be restored.

However, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he now has a renewed mandate from the council elections to go to the British government and seek solutions on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The elections to 11 local councils saw Sinn Féin emerge at the weekend as the largest party in local government for the first time, with 144 seats, a rise of 39 from 2019.

The party replicated its result in the Assembly election last year when it became the largest party at Stormont.

The DUP reinforced its position as the dominant force in unionism by winning 122 seats, the same number as in 2019.

The poll took place against the backdrop of the DUP’s decision to collapse the Stormont powersharing institutions in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The DUP is seeking further steps from the British government to ease its trading and political concerns about the protocol before it commits to a Stormont return.

Sinn Féin president and vice president Mary Lou McDonald and Ms O’Neill appeared together in Belfast on Monday, with Mrs McDonald stating the party has “broken new ground”.

“Thursday was the people’s day, and they have now spoken loud and clear.

“The result has been a monumental endorsement for Sinn Féin’s positive and progressive platform to restore government (at Stormont), to invest in the health service, to support people through the cost-of-living crisis and to deliver first-class council services.”

Mrs McDonald said a significant motivating factor in the election was public frustration that Ms O’Neill had been prevented from becoming the North’s first minister due to the DUP veto on power-sharing.

“Even beyond nationalism and republicanism there is a recognition that Michelle O’Neill should now be serving as a first minister for all,” she said.

Ms O’Neill reiterated her call for an urgent meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

“It should be at the highest level, at taoiseach and prime minister level, and we want to see a plan to have the institutions back up and running,” she told reporters in Belfast.

Ms O’Neill said the DUP’s ongoing blockade on Stormont was “totally unacceptable”.

“There’s no doubt the political landscape across this island is changing, but Sinn Féin is leading on that change, and we are in this decade of opportunity and people want new beginnings,” she said.

“We said that we will work for all, and that I will be a first minister for all, and I’m ready to start that work today, I’ve been ready to start that work since last May.

“One party’s boycott of the Assembly cannot go on, and the Executive must be formed now. So, it’s now time to make politics work and deliver for people right across this island.

“That’s what the public have just endorsed in this recent election again.”

Ms O’Neill said it would not be acceptable for a return to Stormont to be delayed until the autumn.

Appearing at Stormont where he was flanked by a number of his DUPs and MLAs, Mr Donaldson said he had delivered a very strong mandate.

He added: “That means the DUP has a renewed mandate to go back to the government and seek the solutions that we need on the Northern Ireland Protocol, to restore our place within the United Kingdom and our ability to trade with the rest of the UK.”

He added: “I believe the mandate we have been given in the council is a mandate to finish the job.

“That means getting Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom restored, protected in law and getting Stormont back up and running and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Mr Donaldson said his party was committed to seeing Stormont restored, but it had to be on “solid foundations”.

He said: “We’re committed to seeing this place (Stormont) properly restored and functioning and delivering.

“Whether that is more effective, more efficient public services, whether that’s tackling the problems with our public finances.

“We will be at Westminster making the case to the Treasury and we will be here preparing for the restoration of the Assembly – but on a solid foundation.

“That was a key message that we put forward on our election campaign.

“This place, Stormont, needs to be restored on solid foundations.”

He added: “Progress in Northern Ireland is only made with the support of unionists and nationalists.

“Whatever changes have taken place during the election, that reality remains a constant.”

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Downing Street said it remained hopeful parties could return to powersharing.

A No10 spokesperson said: “It remains our position that we’re hopeful the parties will come together and see the Assembly and the Executive return to work.

“We have consistently said that stable, effective and accountable government in Northern Ireland is in the interests of everybody.”