‘Two years on, equality is still key to restoring Assembly’ – O’Neill

Two years on from Martin McGuinness’ resignation as Deputy First Minister, there are still grounds for optimism that the power-sharing institutions can be restored, providing it is on the basis of equality, Sinn Féin Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill has said.

It’s exactly two years since Martin called time on the disrespect, the discrimination and the lack of integrity which had made Stormont unsustainable.

It was a heart-breaking yet inspiring day that I don’t think any of us will forget when a clearly gravely-ill Martin faced the cameras to declare that there will be no return to the status quo.

Martin resigned as a last resort and he did so with a heavy heart. But he knew it was the right thing to in order to fix what was broken.

That is as true today as it was then. The public deserve to have a functioning government they can have confidence in. A government that guarantees citizens rights and operates on the basis of transparency and integrity. 

Through all the political breakdown and rancour of the past two years, it can be tempting to believe that the prospects of restoring the Assembly and the Executive in the North are as remote as ever.

But I believe there is hope for optimism.

It is imperative that we arrest the political drift that we are currently in and stop the attempts to unravel the Good Friday Agreement and its political institutions before it becomes unsalvageable.

 The most frustrating thing about the last two years is that all these issues can and should have been addressed long before now.

The fact they haven’t been is due to the ongoing refusal of the DUP to face the reality that they are on the wrong side of the popular and political will on the issues of rights, equality and Brexit.

They are blocking progress from a minority stance and that is not a sustainable position in the longer term.

They have been facilitated in this by a British Government which has been robbed of any pretence of impartiality due to its Confidence and Supply arrangement with the DUP at Westminster.

However, the wholly unreasonable, unrepresentative DUP position must be confronted and challenged because the public deserve to have functioning Government and one which they can have confidence in. As co-guarantors of our peace and political process, both the Dublin and London governments have a responsibility to ensure that happens.

The denial of rights must be ended. The equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement must be embraced.

The disrespect to Irish national identity and culture must be consigned to the past and the prejudice felt by Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities must be eradicated.

The RHI Inquiry has also exposed the crucial need for reform of how the Assembly and Executive operates in future. Never ever again can we see scandals like Red Sky, NAMA and RHI.

None of this is impossible, providing the political will exists. Sinn Féin wants an Assembly which operates differently from what went before. We want to usher in a new kind of politics, which is progressive, respectful, and has integrity.

That means promoting the interests of the whole community and upholding our commitment to genuine power-sharing, respect and mutual trust towards one another.

That means following the example of Martin McGuinness by actively promoting reconciliation, and building bridges we can all cross to end sectarianism and bigotry.

That means there can be no return to the status quo.

That means choosing hope over fear.