Sinn Fein has told the UK government it must not ‘hold the people and society’ of Northern Ireland ‘to ransom’ by delaying the formation of an executive to govern the country.
Michelle O’Neill, who is set to become Stormont Assembly First Minister if a government can be formed, urged ministers in Westminster to put “the executive in place today”.
Sinn Fein became Northern Ireland’s largest assembly group in elections last week, but attempts to form a government – which is to include a first and deputy first minister Republican and Unionist parties under the Good Friday Agreement – have yet to be resolved.
It comes as DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson led a delegation to meet Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to reiterate that the Northern Ireland protocol must be scrapped before an executive can be formed.
Sinn Fein vice-president Ms O’Neill told a press conference in Belfast that the people of Northern Ireland could not be ‘used as a pawn between the UK Government and the European Union’ .
She added: “Our interests must be respected. We have received mitigation measures in the form of the protocol…we now expect it to be implemented…
“I fear that Brandon Lewis, the UK government and the DUP are holding society here hostage. And that is not acceptable.”
Along with Sinn Fein President, Irish Opposition Leader Mary Lou McDonald, Ms O’Neill said she wanted to continue to make things better for people in the area.
She added: “There should be no delay. There is no reason to delay. Whatever happens in this executive and this assembly will not change the protocol.
“There are things in the protocol that can be ironed out, smoother implementation and we’re in for that…but what I disagree with is the DUP’s approach of ransoming the society, preventing us from spending money to help people… deal with the cost of living crisis… That’s what the public expects.”
Earlier, Universities minister Michelle Donelan said nothing was ‘out of place’ in negotiations to address concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol, ahead of a series of meetings that the Ireland secretary of the North, Brandon Lewis, was to have with the leaders of the five major political parties in Stormont.
The protocol governs trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.
On Saturday, Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the IRA, became the first nationalist party to win the most seats to the Northern Ireland Assembly over its 101-year history.
Ms Donelan told Sky’s Kay Burley: “The Northern Ireland protocol is not working and I think concerns about that have been reflected in the recent results we have seen in the election. We are working at pace to solve this problem. Nothing is on the table.”
Meanwhile, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP MPs Edwin Poots and Gordon Lyons and MPs Gavin Robinson and Gregory Campbell were part of the delegation that met Mr Lewis.
Afterwards, Sir Jeffrey said: “Our institutions are not based on majority rule, they are based on consensus and power sharing. Progress is only made in Northern Ireland with the support of the trade unionists and nationalists. Trade unionism has rejected the NI protocol. No trade union MP supports it.
“With no union support, the NI executive cannot be formed until the Irish Sea boundary is removed.
“The government has spoken tough, but the people who voted on Thursday are not interested in words, they want to see the government act and stand up for this part of the UK and stand up for the democratic institutions of Stormont.”
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