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Mary Lou McDonald says it's ‘clearly not acceptable' for the DUP to refuse to serve with Michelle O’Neill

'It says that the DUP, a section of political unionism, is only interested in the democratic process when they come out on top'

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill and party leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters

Seoirse Mulgrew

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has said it is “unacceptable” for the DUP to refuse to work alongside Michelle O’Neill and “stand on the sidelines”.

Ms McDonald said it’s “very important” that the DUP party “demonstrate respect and inclusion by agreeing to serve in that joining office with a republican First Minister”.

She said the results of the Assembly election is a “great moment for equality” in Northern Ireland.

“It’s fair to say that the election crystalises the depth and the extent of change that has occurred in the North of Ireland. I think it’s extremely significant that for the first time a nationalist party commands the biggest share of the vote,” she said.

“And more significant again that we have now in Michelle O’Neill the first nationalist republican progressive person to potentially lead the Executive and to occupy the office of First Minister.

“The history of the North of Ireland is such that it was engineered and established precisely to prevent a Michelle O’Neill from ever being in the office of First Minister so I think it’s a great marker of change and a great statement of equality now that there is no office in the North of Ireland to which anybody can be excluded.”

While Ms O’Neill is set to become Stormont’s next First Minister, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson warned his party would not go into government and potentially make her First Minister unless there were changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Ms McDonald said it is “essential” for the DUP leader to share the office of the First and Deputy First Minister with Ms O’Neill.

“I think it’s more serious, it says that the DUP, a section of political unionism, is only interested in the democratic process when they come out on top,” she told Newstalk’s On The Record With Gavan Reilly.

“I just cannot emphasise enough how essential it is for the DUP, for the leader Jeffrey Donaldson to be crystal clear now that they will in fact share the office of First and Deputy First Minister with Michelle O’Neill.

“It goes to the entire core of the project not just of peace building but of developing politics in the North of Ireland. It’s clearly not acceptable for the DUP to refuse to serve with Michelle O’Neill simply for the first time we have a republican First Minister.”

Ms McDonald said she believes that the DUP will be met with “public hostility” if they delay in forming an Executive.

“They will be letting everybody down including those who voted for them if they refuse to get back to work tomorrow with the rest of us. We’re in a cost-of-living crisis, we have £330 million that the Executive has been unable to distribute and put back in people’s pockets because we haven’t had an executive,” she said.

“I think anybody, the DUP or anybody else, suggesting for a second that they will stand on the sidelines and watch as people struggle on, that they will insist on a further delay in getting that money into people’s pockets is just totally unacceptable and I think will be met with very wide public hostility.”

Ms McDonald said “people will suffer” if the DUP choose to prioritise border checks over cost-of-living issues.

“They can make that choice but the consequence of it means that their political posturing means the people across societies will suffer and to me that is a terrible vista and is unacceptable,” she said.

“The reality is that the difficulties as the DUP perceive them with the Protocol can only be sorted out through a process of good faith engagement and dialogue between the Government in London and the European institutions.

“Keeping the Executive down in Belfast will not change the Protocol one iota. And Jeffrey Donaldson knows this, the DUP know there is a specific committee that is established to deal with issues around the Protocol, none of which are insurmountable.”

“This is all a consequence of Brexit, so I don’t accept any of those alibies, and let me repeat it is not acceptable when people are struggling for the DUP to play games like this, and they’ve walked themselves down a cul de sac.”

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