19 October 2022

Michelle O’Neill ‘ready to lead a new Stormont Executive today’

19 October 2022

Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said she is ready to lead a new Executive today.

But the DUP has again insisted it will not nominate ministers until the Northern Ireland Protocol is replaced with post-Brexit arrangements unionists can support.

Devolution in Northern Ireland has been in flux since the DUP withdrew its First Minister in February in protest at the protocol.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he will call an election on October 28, as required by current legislation, if a new Executive has not been formed by then.

An Assembly election in May saw Sinn Fein overtake the DUP to become the largest party at Stormont and become entitled to nominate the next First Minister.

Ms O’Neill made her pledge that she is ready to lead a new Executive during a virtual meeting with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on Wednesday.

She said they discussed “shared priorities in protecting people, businesses and public services”.

“Each of the devolved administrations face challenges as a result of this chaotic Conservative government in London who are doing huge damage daily which is impacting us all,” she said.

“I briefed First Minister Drakeford on the present realities where, six months after the historic election, power-sharing has not been restored because the DUP refuse to respect the outcome.

“We also discussed the fact that caretaker ministers will vacate departments in only 10 days’ time with nobody at the helm, and I made it clear that I am ready to form and lead an Executive today to support workers, families and businesses through the cost-of-living crisis.”

DUP MP Gavin Robinson restated his party’s position that the problem of the protocol remains and must be addressed before devolution is restored.

We remain absolutely committed to the restoration of devolution once the protocol is replaced by arrangements which unionists can support

He said the protocol is driving up costs for consumers.

“An election just a few months ago told us that every unionist MLA is opposed to the Northern Ireland Protocol, yet the EU has failed to respond to this democratic statement,” he said.

“The EU negotiating mandate remains wedded to a protocol which is unacceptable to unionists. This must change.

“It is entirely the Secretary of State’s decision whether there is an election, but London and Brussels must accept it is the protocol which is the blockage to devolution being restored.

“The protocol is driving up costs for consumers by a 25% tariff on steel used in building schools, roads, hospitals, and houses. It is driving up grocery costs by increasing haulage costs from GB to NI.

“We remain absolutely committed to the restoration of devolution once the protocol is replaced by arrangements which unionists can support.”

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