Sinn Féin green light to powersharing paves way for new executive

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has announced that the party has agreed to back a deal to restore powersharing at Stormont – a move that confirms the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland after a three-year absence.

Sinn Féin green light to powersharing paves way for new executive

Pearse Doherty, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill among party colleagues at a press conference today. Picture via Sinn Féin/Twitter
Pearse Doherty, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill among party colleagues at a press conference today. Picture via Sinn Féin/Twitter

Powersharing is set to return to Northern Ireland after Sinn Féin joined the DUP leadership in backing a deal to re-enter devolved government together.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said a draft agreement tabled by the UK and Irish governments provided a basis to resurrect parliamentary institutions that have been down for three years.

The announcement came after a day of internal deliberations by the republican party.

It followed a similar announcement by DUP leader Arlene Foster on Thursday night – minutes after the text of governments’ proposals were published.

Nurses and supporters on the picket line at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)
Nurses and supporters on the picket line at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

There has been no confirmation when the Assembly will officially resume business and a new first and deputy first minister will be elected, but it could be as soon as Saturday.

“We now have the basis to restore power sharing, and we’re up for that,” said Ms McDonald.

“There’s no doubt there are serious challenges ahead; the impact of Brexit, austerity and other pressing issues.

“But the biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring we have genuine power sharing build on equality, respect and integrity.

“I believe that the powersharing government can work. That requires everyone to step up. Sinn Féin’s commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen.”

The wide-ranging deal, which was published by the governments on Thursday night, contains compromise solutions to the vexed disputes at the heart of the 36-month powersharing impasse, such as legislative provisions for Irish language speakers.

Ms McDonald responded to those Irish language activists disappointed with provisions outlined in the deal. She insisted the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement was only a start, predicting that more gains for language would come in the future.

“I would say to Irish language activists take heart from the fact that this is now an historic moment because for the first time we have official recognition,” she said.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald (centre), and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (centre right) with party colleagues speak to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald (centre), and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (centre right) with party colleagues speak to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

The deal includes what the UK government has promised will be a major Treasury-funded financial package to tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.

One of the most high profile of those is a high-profile industrial dispute in the health service which on Friday saw nurses again walk out on strike.

Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said history has been made after the restoration of government in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, he said: “History is being made today. We now have confirmation from the two largest parties in Northern Ireland that they both are committed to re-entering an executive and establishing a functioning Stormont again.

“Of course, that is not the end of the story as we want this to be an all-party executive so I hope that the Alliance Party and SDLP will also be able to join Sinn Féin and the DUP in that new executive.”

The last DUP/Sinn Féin-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That row subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.

Meanwhile, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was time to get down to work and deliver for the public. He said his party was ready to go into the chamber to commence Assembly business on Friday night.

“We have had big commitments from the two governments and other parties to ensure that the things that we are concerned about actually get done in this executive,” he said.

“That’s why we have taken the decision, as a party, to go into government to make sure that we can deliver for the people we are concerned about.

“We will go in, probably sceptically, but we will go in and we will do our best to deliver for the public.”

Mr Eastwood was non-committal on who might be his party’s nomination for its one ministerial portfolio, or which departmental brief it would like to occupy.

This story was updated at 6.25pm.

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