Northern Ireland

No Brexit progress until border resolved says Sinn Féin

Mary Lou McDonald
Image caption Mary Lou McDonald made the comments at the end of her first party conference as president of Sinn Féin

Brexit negotiations cannot be allowed to progress to the next stage unless the issue of the Irish border is resolved, Mary Lou McDonald has said.

Ms McDonald made the comments at the end of her first party conference as president of Sinn Féin.

The UK and EU do not want a hard border but are at odds over how to achieve that.

Ms McDonald described the upcoming EU summit later this month as "crunch time" for the British government.

"If they don't have a credible, acceptable proposal, if they cannot demonstrate how they will avoid a hard border, protect the Good Friday Agreement and citizens' rights then the Irish government must call them out," she said.

"There can be no question of progressing to the next phase of these negotiations in the absence of an answer to the Irish question.

"This is one test that our government cannot flunk."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The UK and EU do not want a hard border but are at odds over how to achieve that

Last month, the Brexit Secretary David Davis played down the prospect of a breakthrough on the Irish border by the EU summit on 28-29 June.

About 3,000 delegates attended the Sinn Féin ard fheis (party conference) at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast this weekend.

On Friday, the party's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill launched an attack on the DUP, claiming the party was living "in a fool's paradise" and ignoring the interests of people in Northern Ireland.

In her presidential address, Ms McDonald also criticised the DUP.

Analysis: By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI Political Reporter

As far as party conferences go, this was something of a home run for Mary Lou McDonald.

She has cemented Sinn Féin as her party now, and the 3,000 delegates in the audience seemed to agree.

Her first leader's speech at an ard fheis was interrupted at various points with rounds of applause.

Her speech mentioned the big issues like Brexit and the stalemate at Stormont - but it also focused on Sinn Féin's bid to get into government in Dublin - touching numerous policy bases such as housing, healthcare and education.

"To those who are on an agenda to exclude us, I invite them to wake up and smell the coffee," she said.

She also paid tribute to her predecessor Gerry Adams.

But with Ms McDonald and Michelle O'Neill now leading the charge for Sinn Féin, it's perhaps fitting that the party's conference played out with "sisters are doing it for themselves" blasting from the speakers.

'Political games'

She said the party "remain in a fixed, negative space", but that Sinn Féin is still committed to the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont.

Northern Ireland has been without a government since the DUP- Sinn Féin coalition collapsed in January 2017.

"A power-sharing executive and assembly in the north is still the right thing - and we are up for that," Ms McDonald said.

However, without a return to Stormont in the near future, Ms McDonald reiterated her call for London and Dublin to reconvene the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference "without further delay".

"People in the north cannot wait while the DUP play political games and go into hiding," she added.

Ms McDonald also addressed speculation about the prospect of Sinn Féin entering government in the Republic of Ireland in the future.

She told delegates she wants to lead Sinn Fein "into a progressive government in the south".

"After the next election, Sinn Féin will talk to all political parties and the independents," she said.

"It is not for Leo Varadkar (Irish prime minister) or Micheál Martin (the leader of Fianna Fail) to decide whether or not we enter government.

"That decision will be made in the first instance by the people."

More on this story