By Rebecca Black, PA
Stormont politicians have been urged to work to “salvage” what they can from the “chaos” caused by the DUP.
Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill was speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly after party whips met to discuss how to expedite outstanding legislative Bills through to completion before the end of the mandate.
Ms O’Neill was appearing in the chamber for the first time since she was removed from her post as deputy First Minister following the resignation of DUP First Minister Paul Givan in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
She made particular reference to uncertainty that now surrounds a scheduled state apology next month for victims and survivors of historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.
“The DUP’s actions in unilaterally resigning from the Executive are reckless and have caused concern and uncertainty for businesses, for workers, for families and campaigners on a range of many important issues,” she said.
“In terms of the survivors of historical institutional abuse they have caused real hurt and real trauma.
“While the DUP must bear responsibility for that, I am also very conscious that those of us who are serious about showing responsible leadership and delivering for people can and should seek to salvage what we can from the chaos the DUP have caused.”
Earlier, Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey told MLAs it was his intention the assembly passes “as much legislation as possible” in the weeks ahead.
Opening the start of business on Monday, Mr Maskey also said that he had had no contact with the Northern Ireland Office about ending the assembly’s mandate at an “early stage”, which would see an earlier election than planned.
Ms O’Neill said there was a wide range of important draft legislation that needed to be progressed into law before the Northern Ireland Assembly mandate ended.
She said that included Bills on climate change, organ donation, integrated education, autism, safe access zones for abortion services, a ban on fracking, welfare mitigation payments and stalking protections.
“These are all hugely important issues which have all real-life impacts and real-life consequences,” Ms O’Neill told MLAs.
“Sinn Féin wants to work with the other parties to make sure they are taken forward in the limited time we have left in this mandate.
“I stand ready to do this important work, and whilst time is of the essence progress is still possible across a range of areas. That should be the singular focus of this Assembly in the weeks ahead.”
DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley responded in the chamber, saying unionists “will not stand idly by while they call for the rigorous implementation of an Irish Sea border”.
“They would have us do nothing in the face of continuing economic and constitutional carnage the protocol is causing,” he told MLAs.
He also accused Sinn Féin of “hypocrisy and double standards”.
“Sinn Féin would collapse this place in a heartbeat over narrow pet projects like the Irish language for example, but are happy to ignore the Irish Sea border which is a threat to the prosperity of everyone everywhere.”