Time is of the essence to restore Stormont and seize opportunities – McDonald

Time is of the essence to resurrect the Stormont Assembly and seize economic opportunities, the Sinn Fein president has said.

Mary Lou McDonald was speaking as the DUP continues to consider a deal struck between the UK and EU to address unionist concerns around Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.

The DUP has it will consider the Windsor Framework, with no timescale yet given on when it may decide to go back into the Assembly.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party has been refusing to take part in devolved government for the last year in protest against the protocol.

Ms McDonald said her party is currently actively preparing for the return of the Assembly, describing her MLAs as anxious to get back to work.

She emphasised that time is “of the essence”.

She added: “We know that we face very, very big challenges, economically, socially, in terms of public service provision.

“We also know there’s big opportunities as well for the North of Ireland and the opportunities are coming at us now.

“We’re satisfied that the agreement struck does essential things. It ensures there will be no hardening of the border on our island.

“The team is here and every single one of us is aware we have a big job to do. We’re very, very anxious to get back to work, none more so than Michelle O’Neill, and we await and look forward to the time when she will lead the executive as a first minister.”

However, DUP MLA Gordon Lyons responded by accusing Sinn Fein of welcoming economic opportunities from a protocol deal brought at the insistence of Sir Jeffrey’s party.

Gordon Lyons
Gordon Lyons (Liam McBurney/PA)

He also said Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill should apologise for having previously called for the EU to “rigorously implement” the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“The only reason Sinn Fein or any other party in Northern Ireland is offering views on the Windsor Framework is because of the determination and action of the Democratic Unionist Party,” he said.

“It is notable that all of those who have been quick to welcome the framework without significant scrutiny are the same parties who told us that the protocol could never be reopened and that the European Union would never agree to fresh negotiations.”

He added: “We will take time to fully scrutinise both the political and legal texts to assess whether this framework meets our seven tests and whether it restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

“The intention behind the efforts to bring forward this framework however has been to resolve problems which many people denied even existed.”

Sitting alongside Ms McDonald at a press conference at Stormont, Ms O’Neill described the economic potential of this moment as “enormous” and an “opportunity not to be missed”.

She added: “Now we find ourselves on the other end of this negotiation, there is enormous potential for us now, a potential that must be grasped.

Michelle O’Neill
Michelle O’Neill said the timing presents opportunities ‘not to be missed’ (PA)

“I rarely find myself agreeing with the British Prime Minister, but I do think that the opportunity we now have of access to both markets has to be grabbed on to with both hands, and there is no time to waste because we’re about to attend in Washington DC a number of events that will be to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, but as you all know, that’s about encouraging investment here, that’s about the economic potential of here.

“We have in quick succession a deal being done on the protocol, we go to the States next week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, very quickly in the aftermath of that comes the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

“The economic potential for us here is enormous and this is a moment not to be missed.”

Ms O’Neill said that over the last 24 hours she has been speaking with people, including the business community, and says they have given the deal a cautious welcome so far, and want to examine the detail.

“But that should not delay the formation of an executive, that’s where we all should be today, that’s where we’re focused on and that’s the message we believe the public at home want to hear,” she said.

“They want to hear when the executive is going to be formed, they want to hear how we’re going to tackle together, all of the parties, the huge financial situation that we have ahead of us.

“All the executive parties need to be working together in this time to secure maximum advantage for the people we represent collectively here, and there should be no more delays in all of that.”