Sinn Fein's president accuses Boris Johnson of using Northern Ireland as a 'pawn' in negotiations with EU

Sunday 15th May 2022 17:00 BST

Sinn Fein has accused Boris Johnson of playing dangerous games with the people of Northern Ireland and shamefully using the nation as a "pawn" in negotiations with the EU.

President Mary Lou McDonald said the British government is helping the DUP block Sinn Fein's right to form an executive following their election win.

It comes after Sinn Fein became the first nationalist party to win the most seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the recent election.

But the devolved administration has not been able to function since Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, said his party's refusal to re-enter a power sharing executive was part of a protest against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking in Dublin today, ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's visit to Northern Ireland next week, Ms McDonald accused the British government of trying to "frustrate the democratic will of the people".

She said: "There has to be a respect for people's votes and it has to be recognised there is very serious work to be done as we are in the grip of a cost of living crisis.

"Mr Johnson can't play games with the people in the north or the island of Ireland. He has connived with the DUP to use Ireland, to use the north of Ireland, to use unionism as a pawn in a wider game that is being played out with EU.

"That is clearly a shameful tactic and approach that is completely unacceptable."

She said the DUP had not just called a halt to a formation of an executive, but also tried to place a veto on the operation of the assembly.

Ms McDonald said: "It is outrageous. The British government have assisted the DUP in these blocking tactics and they need to desist, and certainly when we meet Mr Johnson we will be making that very clear too.

Read more: What is the Northern Ireland Protocol and why does it matter?

"We want partnership and a response to the really, really difficult circumstances which people find themselves. So yes, we have heard the message from London and they are sabre-rattling.

"The people of this island deserve so much better than that and Mr Johnson and his government cannot play these dangerous games with the people of the north or the island of Ireland."

Sinn Fein's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill also spoke in Dublin alongside Ms McDonald as she said the DUP was punishing the public for "their own public mess".

She said: "There should be no delay. We were there yesterday, we turned up as we promised the electorate. But the DUP failed to turn up and let us form an executive and do our work.

"The DUP are doing two things - they're punishing the public for their own Brexit mess and they're being facilitated for that by the Tories."

It came after the prime minister warned the UK could ditch the protocol, which which forms part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, unless Brussels agrees to major changes.

Read more:
Who is Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill?
What is power sharing and why is it used in Northern Ireland?

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The government has said the requirement for checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in order to keep the border with the Republic open is damaging business and inflaming sectarian tensions.

However, the EU has warned it will respond with retaliatory measures if the UK acts unilaterally.

Earlier today, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the government's threats to tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol have come at "the worst possible time" due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

As well as intensifying the economic squeeze, Mr Lammy said it is "wrong, short-sighted and ill-judged" to open up divisions with Britain's European allies in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He said: "Instead of finding practical solutions they are planning a trade war in a cost of living crisis."

In response to Sinn Fein's comments today, a No 10 spokesperson told Sky News: "The protocol is causing real problems on the ground and its current operation is undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

"It also doesn't command cross community support. It needs to be fixed to protect stability in NI and the integrity of the UK."

While DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said: "Last September, I set out the problem. There are solutions if the political will is there. From the outset unionism has been reasonable and we have been patient.

"We want a devolved government that delivers for everyone in Northern Ireland and that can build on stable foundations. These institutions only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.

"Not one unionist MLA elected last week supports the NI Protocol. That makes it impossible for power sharing to operate... Unionism will not be walked over. Our mandate will be respected.

"Progress is only made in NI with the support of unionists and nationalists. There is zero support from unionists for the Protocol. If no nationalists supported the protocol, Washington, London, Brussels and Dublin would be demanding change."