Michelle O’Neill, as Sinn Féin‘s vice-president, is entitled to claim the post of First Minister. Speaking to the media on Monday, while urging the need to “get back down to business” to form a new executive with the DUP, she told Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s Government to sort out the remaining Brexit issues with the EU so as not to make Northern Ireland “collateral damage”.
Ms O’Neill said: “Brinkmanship will not be tolerated when Northern Ireland becomes collateral damage in a game of chicken with the European Commission.
“Responsibilities for finding solutions to the Protocol lie with Boris Johnson and the EU.
“But make no mistake, we and our businessmen here will not be held for ransom.”
For Sinn Féin to form a new government, the DUP, which is now the second-largest party, must agree to take up the deputy first minister’s position, as laid out in the Good Friday Agreement.
But DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he will not lead his party back into power-sharing until issues with the post-Brexit trading arrangements contained in the Northern Ireland Protocol are resolved.
He claimed: “We want to see this place up and running as soon as possible.
“We want stable devolved government. We are committed to our participation in those institutions.”
Speaking at a press conference with his new MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) team at Stormont, Sir Jeffrey added: “We need decisive action by the government to address the difficulties created by the protocol.
“Whether that is driving up the cost of living, whether that is the harm that it is doing to businesses and our economy, or indeed in undermining political stability in Northern Ireland.
“The protocol needs to be dealt with.”
He added: “We sought a mandate from people to adopt the stance that we have taken and we will continue, as we recognise others also have a democratic mandate [and] we want to work with them to deliver stable government for Northern Ireland.
“But the long shadow of the protocol is casting its mark over this place.”
The Protocol is designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
It created the Irish Sea border and means Northern Ireland continues to follow some EU rules.
Unionists opposed it because they believe it is driving a wedge between them and the rest of the UK.
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Brandon Lewis, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, met with the main parties in Belfast on Monday and called for its leaders to “come together to agree on a way forward to deliver a stable and accountable devolved government”.
He added: “We will continue to press the EU to agree to the crucial changes [to the Protocol] that are urgently needed but will take nothing off the table in our pursuit of those solutions.”
During the election campaign, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said people were not “waking up thinking about Irish unity” and described matters such as the cost-of-living crisis as bigger priorities.
However, Sinn Féin remains committed to holding a referendum on Irish unification, and its manifesto called on the British and Irish governments to set a date for a border poll.
On Friday, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said planning for a unity referendum would come within a “five-year framework”.
The new assembly will meet on Friday to elect a speaker, who will then ask the parties for their nominations for first minister and deputy first minister.
If the DUP nominates a deputy first minister, then an executive can be formed and other ministers can be chosen.