O'Neill hails Sinn Fein election results as 'new era'
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And he pinned the blame for the “seismic” result on Prime Minister Boris Johnson, accusing him of “failing at every step” to stand up for British citizens. Michelle O’Neill yesterday (Saturday) pressed the case for a united Ireland, minutes after her party was confirmed as having won the most seats in the Assembly. Ms O’Neill is also pressing her claim to be Northern Ireland’s next First Minister, having served as deputy to various Unionist politicians since 2020.
Ms O’Neill has been Sinn Fein’s vice president since 2018, taking up the role simultaneously with President Mary Lou McDonald, who is opposition leader south of the border.
Sinn Fein won 27 of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s 90 seats, with the Democratic Unionist Party, led by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, winning 25, having lost three seats. The resurgent Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) , led by Naomi Long, won 17, more than doubling its tally.
During the Troubles which blighted life in Northern Ireland for decades, Sinn Fein, which advocates a united Ireland, was often said to have close links with the IRA, although long-serving leader Gerry Adams repeatedly denied he had ever been a member of the banned organisation.
Mr Habib told Express.co.uk: “The result is seismic, it is very likely the last chapter in the end of the United Kingdom. Boris Johnson is to blame. Why? He has failed at every step to stand up for British citizens in Northern Ireland.”
Referring to the post-Brexit mechanism for preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland, Mr Habib added: “It is his Protocol (aided and abetted by Lord Frost and Michael Gove) that put a border down the Irish Sea and left Northern Ireland to the mercy of foreign laws and a foreign court – all things he swore he would not do.
“On 12 September 2020 he wrote in the Telegraph that the Protocol presented a threat to the very fabric of the United Kingdom but then did nothing.
“He has repeatedly said he would not hesitate to invoke Article 16 to suspend the Protocol and has done nothing.
“Even after two British courts ruled that the Protocol breached the Act of Union, he did nothing.”
Mr Habib also claimed Mr Johnson had “shunned unionists” in Northern Ireland.
He said: “They have been left alone on the battlefield to fight for the integrity of our United Kingdom. That should be our government’s job.
“The Democratic Unionist Party and Traditional Unionist Voice had no option but to fight this election on an anti-Protocol platform. They should not have had to do so.
“The Protocol and Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom should never have been a subject of debate at a local election.”
By contrast, Sinn Fein had “revelled in the mess” used the “disarray” caused by the Protocol to make policy capital, Mr Habib suggested.
He added: “They fought the election claiming they would tackle the cost-of-living crisis if returned as the largest party.
“Stormont does not possess the requisite authority to make an impact on inflation but that did not stop them making false promises.”
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Referring to remarks by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Mr Habib pointed out: “Just the day before the election, Brandon Lewis dropped the bombshell, contrary to previous indications, that government would not be introducing new legislation to neuter the Protocol.”
Those of close to the situation “knew never to expect any sensible unilateral action” to come from the Government, he declared.
However, he added: “His reversal must have come as a body blow to Unionists who, despite being repeatedly trod on, continue to hope their love of the United Kingdom will be reciprocated by Westminster.
“What next? Sinn Fein will now start the drum beat for a border poll and reunification of Ireland. They are bound to do so.
“How will our government respond? It will not. It will shrug its shoulders and blame democracy for the outcome when blame in fact lies squarely with the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party.”
In her declaration speech in Magherafelt after topping the poll in Mid Ulster, Ms O’Neill said: “Today represents a very significant moment of change.
“Today ushers in a new era which I believer presents us all with an opportunity to reimagine relationships in this society on the basis of fairness, on the basis of equality and the basis of social justice.
“Irrespective of religious, political or social backgrounds my commitment is to make politics work.”
Ms O’Neill’s ambition of being First Minister is likely to be thwarted – for now at least – by the refusal of the DUP to enter into a power sharing agreement with Sinn Fein until the UK addresses its deep misgivings about the Protocol.
Also speaking yesterday, Ms McDonald said a united Ireland was a possibility before the end of the decade.
She said: “I believe that we are going to see these referendums – and there have to be two bear in mind, north and south – in the coming years.
“Certainly within this decade, this decade of opportunity we are going to see constitutional change on the island of Ireland.
“I believe that the referendum will be possible within a five year time frame.
“But much more importantly I believe that the preparation needs to start now.”
In a statement issued after the results were finalised, Mr Lewis said: “Congratulations to all those who have been elected to represent people across Northern Ireland.
“I encourage the parties to form an Executive as soon as possible. The people of Northern Ireland deserve a stable and accountable local government that delivers on the issues that matter most to them.
“The electorate delivered a number of messages on Thursday. They were clear that they want a fully functioning devolved government in Northern Ireland, they want the issues around the Protocol addressed, and that they want politics to work better.”
Mr Lewis added: “Over the coming days I will be meeting with all the party leaders and will urge them to restore the Stormont institutions at the earliest possible moment, starting with the nomination of an Assembly Speaker within eight days.
“The Government remains committed to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and will continue to work with the Northern Ireland Parties and the Irish Government to deliver its vision for reconciliation, equality, respect for rights and parity of esteem.
“Together, we must move forward towards a brighter future – that means delivering for all the people of Northern Ireland.”
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