Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald has used her party conference in Dublin to attack the British government’s policies on Northern Ireland and Brexit.
In her keynote speech, Ms McDonald addressed the continuing political impasse in Northern Ireland, which has been without a devolved government since May’s election.
“This stalemate cannot continue,” she said. “British government dithering must end. They must immediately bring clarity, a timetable for concluding negotiations with the European Union and the restoration of the [Northern Ireland] Executive.
“But whatever happens, be clear that direct rule from London is not an option. Working together is the only way forward.”
The Sinn Fein leader referenced the recent instability in Westminster as she continued: “Change can’t be stopped by the chaotic Tories in London, either.
“They can’t run their own country without bringing it to the brink of financial ruin. They certainly have no right to tell the people of Ireland how to run ours.
“They disgracefully seek amnesty for their troops and deny victims of the conflict justice. They attack the protocol. An agreement that protects livelihoods and our economy. They care so very little about Ireland.”
The Ard Fheis (party conference) is Sinn Fein’s first since becoming Northern Ireland’s largest party in May’s election.
That result entitled the party’s vice president and leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, to become first minister.
But that has been thwarted by the refusal of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to re-enter Stormont while the Northern Ireland Protocol remains in place.
Unionists maintain that the protocol, a key part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, places a trade border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
In her speech to the conference, which was attended by around 2,000 delegates, Ms O’Neill hit out at the DUP.
“It is wrong that progress on the issues affecting the daily lives of people are being put on hold because one party refuses to accept the democratic outcome of last May’s Assembly election,” she said.
“At any time this would be unacceptable, but in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis it is utterly disgraceful.
“As you all know, the DUP are using the Brexit Protocol as cover not to enter power-sharing. The real reason is because as an Irish nationalist I will be at the helm as first minister and everybody knows it.”
Why is there still no assembly and what does Brexit have to do with it?
Yesterday, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris backed down from calling a new election that would take place before Christmas – a move that Michelle O’Neill said showed he “backed down and failed to do anything whatsoever.”
“He has left people in limbo with indecision and the dithering,” she said.
Mr Heaton-Harris has said that he will provide a further update on Northern Ireland’s electoral situation in Westminster next week.
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson responded to Ms O’Neill’s speech with a “reality and fact check” on Twitter.
Mr Donaldson said that “devolution would only be restored when the protocol is replaced with arrangements that respect the union”.
He also said that “power-sharing only works with support of nationalists and unionists”.