By Cate McCurry, PA
Mary Lou McDonald has said that joint authority between Dublin and London should be “plan B” if an Executive in Northern Ireland is not restored.
The Sinn Féin leader said that if the DUP continues to boycott the Northern Ireland Assembly, then the British and Irish governments should form a partnership.
Speaking at the party’s Ard Fheis in Dublin, Ms McDonald said she spoke to Taoiseach Micheál Martin about the prospect of a joint authority, adding that there needs to be clarity around a “plan B”.
“It means not turning back the clock. It means for those sections of political unionism who hanker for yesterday, yesterday is not available, only tomorrow, the only way is forward,” Ms McDonald added.
“The very basis of the peace settlement of the democratic institutions has been partnership between all of us. On this island between two sovereign governments.
“So, in the event that the DUP continue to sabotage the institutions, continue to refuse to nominate a deputy first minister to work hand in glove with Michelle O’Neill, a first minister for all, if that continues, well then, of course the governments have to have a plan B, one of partnership, one of a joint authority, and I raised this matter with the Taoiseach (Micheál Martin) recently.
“I encouraged him and I would encourage him again, and the British government, to be very sure that they have their ducks in a row, to be very sure that there is clarity around the plan, the partnership plan B.
“You’ll recall during 2006, when things were in difficulties and stalled, the two governments at that time spoke openly at the fact that these partnership arrangements were being discussed and their work was advancing.”
Both the British and Irish governments have played down the prospect of joint authority in recent weeks, with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris stating that the UK government position is that it “will not countenance” it.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said during a recent visit to Belfast that joint authority was not the “focus” of the Government.
He made the comments as he sought to address recent loyalist anger about the prospect of UK/Irish joint authority if devolution was not restored in Belfast.
Sinn Féin calls for an Irish government role in the running of Northern Ireland if the ongoing devolution logjam continues further angered some within the loyalist community.
Last week, an umbrella group representing loyalist paramilitary groups wrote a letter to unionist politicians urging them to make clear that Irish government ministers were not welcome in Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill said the UK government needs to “step up to the plate” and find a way to make the Northern Ireland Protocol work.
On Friday, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said there will not be an Assembly election in December.
Ms O’Neill called for the British Government to set out its plan next week.
“What is next? They have said they will not call an election, but what is the purpose to that?” Ms O’Neill added.
“They have yet to set out what are the next steps, so I would demand that there is a very clear statement next week from the British Government that actually says what they are going to do next.
“If they are going to extend the time to call an election, the purpose needs to be find an agreed way forward to make the protocol work and all those talks need to continue in earnest.
“We need to find an agreed way forward. Westminster needs to step up to the plate and find a way to make the protocol work, and then the public can have an executive that actually helps them through the cost-of-living crisis.
“It is just madness that in this day and age whenever people are struggling through these winter months that there is no executive in place and no ministers taking decisions.
“There is no-one at the helm in the north. It is not good enough.”
Ms McDonald said that “good faith engagement” is needed between London and Brussels to reach an agreement on how to deal with the protocol.
She said that a conclusion to the negotiations is needed.