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Michelle O’Neill accuses unionist leaders of ‘conflating’ identity and Brexit

Speaking to Sky on Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Ms O’Neill also accused the British Government of putting the Brexit agreement ‘in jeopardy’.

20 February 2022

Michelle O’Neill has accused unionist leaders of “conflating” issues around identity and the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The Sinn Fein vice president said the two were “distinctly different things”.

Speaking to Sky on Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Ms O’Neill also accused the British Government of putting the Brexit agreement “in jeopardy”.

“I think unfortunately for the Unionist people, for that wider civic society, the unionist leaders have actually conflated the issue of the protocol and Brexit, a mess which they single-handedly delivered alongside their friends in the Tories,” Ms O’Neill said.

“But they have conflated that issue of identity with the issue of trade, which comes about as a direct result of Brexit.

“There are two distinctly different things.”

Ms O’Neill said Brexit was “foisted” on the people in Northern Ireland.

“There was never cross-community support for Brexit,” Ms O’Neill added.

“The majority of people here, the majority of political parties on a cross-community basis, voted to reject Brexit. Yet it was foisted upon us.

“This Tory government, and Boris Johnson, has shown at every turn that they do not care less for the people who live here.

“It is, in fact, the British government that negotiated the protocol.

“It is, in fact, them who signed up to an international treaty, which they have been putting in jeopardy ever since the ink was barely dry on the agreement itself.

“So, we are not in an ideal situation. However, the protocol does give us the best protection and does afford us a lot of opportunity.”

Earlier this month, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson pulled DUP First Minister Paul Givan out of the Stormont Executive in protest at the protocol – a move that removed the powersharing administration’s ability to make any significant decisions.

The move automatically removed Ms O’Neill as deputy First Minister.

Unionist parties have long argued that the post-Brexit deal, which has created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, had undermined a cornerstone of powersharing in the region – governance with the consent of both nationalists and unionists.

Ms O’Neill, however, has said that cross-border trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic is “flourishing” as a direct result of the protocol.

She also said the Northern Ireland Protocol provides a mitigation against the worst impacts of Brexit.

Brexit
A loyalist demonstration against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Markethill in Co Armagh on Friday evening. Thousands of people gathered to take part in the demonstration (Cate McCurry/PA)

“I don’t want to see any borders. We said from day one that Brexit wasn’t compatible with our peace agreement, with our Good Friday Agreement,” Ms O’Neill added.

“I’ve never wanted to see the interruptions that we’re now experiencing today.

“I think many of us warned against the dangers of Brexit and what it actually would mean for us in reality, and we’re facing those challenges today.

“But we sought, along with the majority of other political parties, to find a mitigation against the worst impact of Brexit, that comes in the form of the protocol.

“So, it protects our peace agreement, it protects the Good Friday Agreement.

“It prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland and it ensures the continuity of trade across this island, which is obviously flourishing as a direct result of the protocol.”

On Friday, DUP MP Sammy Wilson was loudly booed and jeered as he addressed a loyalist rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Wilson was repeatedly interrupted as he attempted to deliver a speech at the event at Markethill in Co Armagh on Friday.

He went to accuse TUV leader Jim Allister, who also spoke at the event, of “whipping up an anti-DUP sentiment”.

Mr Allister rejected the accusation, saying his party is “not responsible” for the public perception of the DUP on Brexit issues.

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