SINN FEIN’S Northern Ireland health minister rejected talks yesterday aimed at averting a snap election for the Stormont assembly.
Michelle O’Neill said the British government needs to press ahead and call the poll following Monday’s resignation by Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, which collapsed the powersharing government.
Mr McGuinness walked away over Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to step down to allow a probe into the “ash for cash” scandal set to cost the Northern Ireland Executive £500 million over 20 years.
Flanked by fellow Sinn Fein assembly members Gerry Kelly and Conor Murphy, Ms O’Neill spoke after meeting Britain’s Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire at Stormont House in Belfast.
“We made very clear to James Brokenshire in terms of what we believe needs to happen — and what needs to happen next is an election,” she said.
“We are not interested in trying to get into negotiations now: what we need is fundamental change. It’s now time for the electorate to have their say, it’s now time for the electorate to make judgement on the DUP’s arrogance.”
But Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams struck a more conciliatory tone. Speaking to reporters in Dublin at about the same time, Mr Adams said: “We are always open for talks and we are always open to meet. Of course we are.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May later told MPs that a snap election would have to be called if no deal could be reached to appoint a replacement for Mr McGuinness.
“The legislation is that if within seven days we don’t have a nomination for a deputy first minister, then the matter would go to an election.”
Ms May said she had discussed the crisis with her Irish counterpart Taoiseach Enda Kenny by phone on Tuesday night.
Mr Kenny’s spokesman said: “The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire will work closely together over coming days to see if a way forward can be found before an election has to be triggered.”