Northern Ireland

Arlene Foster says she and Michelle O'Neill must work together

Ministers at the Joint Ministerial Committee in Cardiff Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May discussed post-Brexit support for trade and investment with ministers from across the UK

Arlene Foster has said she and Michelle O'Neill must work together if the DUP and Sinn Féin remain the two largest parties after the assembly election.

Mrs Foster was speaking after she and Mrs O'Neill attended a Brexit meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Mrs O'Neill said she was the only politician at the meeting representing the "democratic will" of the people of Northern Ireland to remain in the EU.

She said she argued that NI should have "special status" in the EU.

Mrs O'Neill said she had spoken to James Brokenshire and Theresa May about Mr Brokenshire's remarks on legacy investigations at the weekend, and told them that the secretary of state had "disrespected the views of families who have been bereaved by state violence".

Mr Brokenshire said inquiries into killings during the Troubles are "disproportionately" focused on the police and the army.

"I took the opportunity to relay to James Brokenshire how disappointed I was at his comments, about how they were not acceptable, that clearly he disrespected the views of all those families that have been bereaved by state violence," Mrs O'Neill said.

"I think that clearly that there was insensitivity in terms of James Brokenshire's comments, the timing of them, given that we're in the weekend of Bloody Sunday anniversary, so it was wholly unhelpful.

"Clearly we need to deal with the legacy issue if we're going to move forward as society."

Mrs Foster said Monday's meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee was originally meant to be held in Belfast, but had to be switched to Cardiff because of the collapse of the assembly.

An assembly election is to be held on 2 March after the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Asked if she thought a JMC meeting would be held in Belfast, she said: "Yes it will, absolutely."

Mrs Foster said she and Mrs O'Neill would "have to work together, because if the people of Northern Ireland decide that Sinn Féin and the DUP are the two largest parties then we have to move forward and we have to get the institutions up and running again as soon as possible".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said DUP leader Arlene Foster had no right to attend the JMC summit

The JMC is designed to keep the UK's devolved regions informed about Brexit and it is made up of leaders and ministers from the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Mrs May is now in Dublin later to meet Taoiseach Enda Kenny, with Brexit also on the agenda for their talks.

Mrs O'Neill attended the Brexit discussions in her capacity as health minister, while Mrs Foster was also present although she is no longer first minister.

Sinn Féin accused the DUP leader of being in denial about losing her ministerial job.

But the DUP replied that Sinn Féin should check the law that enables Mrs Foster to continue to carry out some of her ministerial functions.

Image caption Arlene Foster said she is "exercising the functions of first minister" in attending the JMC meeting

Ahead of the discussions, Mrs O'Neill said the government had "ignored the views of the majority of the people" in Northern Ireland on Brexit.

While the UK as a whole voted to leave the EU in last June's referendum, 56% of people in Northern Ireland wanted to remain inside the union.

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