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Election season Sinn Fein's Michelle O’Neill: Democracy 'on the terms of unionism alone' is gone

Speculation persists that unionist politicians will refuse to nominate a deputy First Minister if Sinn Fein is voted the largest party in May’s Assembly election

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Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O’Neill

Michelle O’Neill has said the days of democracy “on the terms of unionism alone” are gone as speculation persists that unionist politicians will refuse to nominate a deputy First Minister if Sinn Fein is voted the largest party in May’s Assembly election.

A recent opinion poll carried out by the Institute of Irish Studies University of Liverpool/The Irish News put Sinn Fein at 23.2% of first preference votes among decided voters, well ahead of the DUP on 19.4%.

It followed a LucidTalk poll, commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph, which revealed the republican party was on 25% - eight points ahead of the DUP.

If the results were replicated in the Stormont election, it would put Ms O’Neill on course to become First Minister.

Speaking to Sky News’ David Blevins on Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Ms O’Neill said it will be up to the people to deicide who they wish to govern when asked about the possibility of unionism failing to nominate a deputy First Minister.

She added it was too early to talk about a voluntary coalition government if another party decided to nominate a deputy First Minister in unionism’s place.

“When it comes to whether or not there should be a different form of government, you have to remember that we are a society coming out of conflict and we have special and unique circumstances here,” stated the Sinn Fein vice president.

“So we can’t be looking towards different systems right now.

“The Good Friday Agreement was an agreement that a lot of people put a lot of hard work into - nationalist and unionist, republican and loyalist.

“A lot of sweat went in to bring about a peace agreement.

“That’s something that I hold very dearly and that’s something I will protect at all turns so I believe in the system of governance is a necessary piece of governance because of where we came from.”

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Ms O’Neill said it was “crazy” to ask if Northern Ireland was ready for a Sinn Fein First Minister given many of the atrocities of the Troubles carried out by the IRA would still be at the forefront of peoples’ minds.

“[The people] will decide who will be the largest party,” she replied.

“I come from a background - I’m a republican, I’m a proud republican, I’m somebody who I believe can govern for all people. Not just those with a republican tradition but those with other traditions.

“So to sit here in 2022 for anybody to question a nationalist’s ability to be First Minister, to hold a position in the legal profession, to hold the position of justice ministry, it’s just absolutely madness. Those days are gone.”

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Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald

 

When pushed as to how Troubles victims of IRA violence would feel if she became First Minister, Ms O’Neill said it was important to recognise the “we’ve had a really difficult past”.

“We also have to recognise that we've all had a very different experience of the past,” she continued.

“My lived experience would be very different perhaps to someone else of my generation, some of my peers, but we have recognise that but we also have to deal with the past.

“This British Government that are intent on trying to cover over what they did here isn't a good situation because how do we build for a better future if we don’t properly deal with the past?”

The former deputy First Minister believes the possibility of a united Ireland is closer than it has been previously and said it is time to start planning and putting preparations in place.

“Let’s start to have a healthy conversation about the things that matter everyday to people,” said Ms O’Neill.

“What does the health service look like in a united Ireland? What does education look like in a united Ireland?

“I think this is a hopeful conversation because our society here has lived apart for far too long.

“If the last couple of years of Brexit has taught us anything is that the Tories will never prioritise the interests of the people here whether they be unionist, nationalist or other.”

Earlier this month, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald congratulated Queen Elizabeth on her platinum jubilee and Ms O’Neill said she does respect the monarchy.

“We live in a society that has been so divided,” she said. “I respect the views of those with a unionist identity, those with a British identity and those people that look towards the monarchy.

“It’s not my thing, but that’s okay. I can be respectful enough to understand that for other people in my society - my community - it’s important to them.

“That’s why we send our best wishes and I do so again today.”

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