Sinn Fein has rejected claims of hypocrisy over its criticism of a DUP threat to pull down Stormont.
The republican party has branded the DUP threat to collapse powersharing in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol as a reckless and irresponsible election stunt.
However, critics of the party have challenged its stance, noting that Sinn Fein pulled down Stormont in 2017 and also threatened to do likewise in a row over stalled Irish language legislation earlier this year.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said her party’s position had been based on the necessity to see agreements honoured – highlighting that its threat not to re-nominate a Stormont deputy first minister in June was as a result of DUP unwillingness to move on the Irish language issue.
Mrs McDonald was pressed on the issue as she addressed the media at Stormont on Thursday, challenged as to why the DUP threat was any different to previous Sinn Fein moves.
“The very strong distinction is that our position has always been that where an agreement is made, an agreement is honoured,” she said.
“And the Irish Language Act goes all the way back to St Andrews (2006 agreement) to an agreement more than a decade ago.
“And so too the protocol has been agreed, it has been signed off on, it’s here, it’s here to stay, it has to be honoured.
“And the genuine issues that arise around it are amenable to a solution and that’ll happen through the (EU/UK) joint committee. So, in fact, we have been absolutely consistent in that regard.”
Of the DUP threat, she said: “The position set out by Jeffrey Donaldson and the DUP today is a reckless, irresponsible and short-sighted election stunt.
“They are threatening the stability of the political institutions when we are in the midst of the Covid pandemic, when the Tories are putting families and workers under pressure with more cuts, and when there is big work to do on the issues that matter to people’s everyday lives – on hospital waiting lists, on schools, on housing and on jobs, and on rebuilding our economy.”
Mrs McDonald said the withdrawal of DUP ministers from north-south political bodies would also be a clear breach of the ministerial code at Stormont.
She would not be drawn when asked whether Sinn Fein would take legal action against its partners-in-government for refusing to participate in the cross-border institutions.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood also criticised the DUP moves, accusing the party of holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom.
Mr Eastwood said the DUP steps were based on “selfish party political self-interest”.
“People across Northern Ireland are sick of being held to ransom by political parties that put their own narrow self-interest above the interests of our communities and I do not believe that devolution could sustain another self-inflicted wound like this,” said the SDLP leader.
“Whether it’s the DUP or Sinn Fein, this behaviour has risked fatally damaging public confidence in politicians and the political process.
“The remarks made by the leader of the DUP this morning are disappointing, disproportionate and risk putting an end to devolution in Northern Ireland.
“I hoped that Jeffrey Donaldson’s leadership would be pragmatic, aimed at resolving the challenges that Brexit has created for all of our communities and acknowledging the need for compromise.
“Instead we have a return to the incendiary rhetoric and threats that got us nowhere for three of the last four years.”
He called on parties to work together to find solutions to issues around the protocol.
Alliance leader Naomi Long also criticised the DUP threat, characterising it as “cynical party political posturing”.
“The people of Northern Ireland have had to endure a horrendously stressful and difficult 18 months due to the pandemic,” she said.
“They are struggling with accessing cancer treatment, worried about their children’s education and health at school, fearful for their jobs as furlough ends and are exhausted.
“What they want and have the right to expect from political leaders is we focus on those priorities and on delivering improvements for them and their families – to create stability and give them hope. Instead, the DUP are engaging in cynical party politics to try and recover perceived forthcoming electoral losses.”