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Michelle O’Neill says serving under Sinn Fein First Minister is real reason behind DUP boycott

She accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party of trying to “hide behind the issues of the protocol”

Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill© PA

Belfast Telegraph

Michelle O’Neill has claimed the DUP’s reluctance to serve under a Sinn Fein First Minister is behind the party’s Stormont boycott.

She accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party of trying to “hide behind the issues of the protocol” in not returning to the Assembly.

The DUP's boycott is part of a campaign of opposition to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

The party says it will not return to powersharing until decisive action is taken to remove economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

It means the Assembly has not functioned since May’s election, when Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party for the first time.

Ms O’Neill, who is designate First Minister, appeared on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show.

Asked if she believed the DUP was uncomfortable sharing power with a Sinn Fein First Minister, Ms O’Neill said: “Yes, I don’t think it’s lost on the wider public out there that the DUP don’t like the May election result.

“I don’t think it’s lost on the wider public that they have difficulty in forming a government to be a deputy first minister to my mandate which is to be the First Minister, given the recent election results.

“So I think it’s not lost on people that that’s actually the real motivation here.

“But the DUP hide behind the issues of the protocol, they hide behind all of that.”

Ms O’Neill said she wanted “very mature, sensible political discussion between the British Government and the EU side” on the protocol.

She also urged for efforts to be ramped up to find an agreed way forward, saying that will provide certainty and stability as well as "remove any pretence by the DUP in terms of forming an Executive" with Sinn Fein.

Earlier on the programme, Sir Jeffrey denied the DUP is reluctant to enter a new Executive with a Sinn Fein first minister.

He told Sky: "This is not to do with who is the first or deputy first minister... this is about the union. It is about unionists feeling they have been made second-class citizens as a result of a protocol that diminishes and undermines our place in the United Kingdom.”

Ms O'Neill indicated that she does not want to see another election but it is necessary because the result of the last poll in May has not been respected.

She blamed the DUP, telling Sky: "They have failed to accept the outcome of that election, they have failed to form a government, and they failed to work with the rest of us to get people through these times.

"We shouldn't have to have an election... but unfortunately that election result is being disrespected.

"What we have at this current moment in time is six months post that election, we have a state of limbo, we have no government in place, we have no ministers in post, we have nobody taking decisions in the interests of the people and it's just not acceptable. It's just not good enough."

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