By Rebecca Black and Claudia Savage, PA
Time is of the essence to resurrect the Stormont Assembly and seize economic opportunities, the Sinn Féin president has said.
Mary Lou McDonald was speaking as the DUP continues to consider a deal struck between the UK and EU to address unionist concerns around Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP has it will consider the Windsor Framework, with no timescale yet given on when it may decide to go back into the Assembly.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party has been refusing to take part in devolved government for the last year in protest against the protocol.
Earlier, DUP MP Sammy Wilson declined to say whether that would take days or weeks, telling Times Radio: “As long as it takes us to, first of all, look at the substance of the deal rather than the spin which the Government has given.”
Ms McDonald said her party is currently actively preparing for the return of the Assembly, describing her MLAs as anxious to get back to work.
She emphasised that time is “of the essence”.
She added: “We know that we face very, very big challenges, economically, socially, in terms of public service provision.
“We also know there’s big opportunities as well for the North of Ireland and the opportunities are coming at us now.
“We’re satisfied that the agreement struck does essential things. It ensures there will be no hardening of the border on our island.
“The team is here and every single one of us is aware we have a big job to do. We’re very, very anxious to get back to work, none more so than Michelle O’Neill, and we await and look forward to the time when she will lead the executive as a first minister.”
Sitting alongside Ms McDonald at a press conference at Stormont, Ms O’Neill described the economic potential of this moment as “enormous” and an “opportunity not to be missed”.
She added: “Now we find ourselves on the other end of this negotiation, there is enormous potential for us now, a potential that must be grasped.
“I rarely find myself agreeing with the British Prime Minister, but I do think that the opportunity we now have of access to both markets has to be grabbed on to with both hands, and there is no time to waste because we’re about to attend in Washington DC a number of events that will be to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, but as you all know, that’s about encouraging investment here, that’s about the economic potential of here.
“We have in quick succession a deal being done on the protocol, we go to the States next week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, very quickly in the aftermath of that comes the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
“The economic potential for us here is enormous and this is a moment not to be missed.”
Ms O’Neill said that over the last 24 hours she has been speaking with people, including the business community, and says they have given the deal a cautious welcome so far, and want to examine the detail.
“But that should not delay the formation of an executive, that’s where we all should be today, that’s where we’re focused on and that’s the message we believe the public at home want to hear,” she said.
“They want to hear when the executive is going to be formed, they want to hear how we’re going to tackle together, all of the parties, the huge financial situation that we have ahead of us.
“All the executive parties need to be working together in this time to secure maximum advantage for the people we represent collectively here, and there should be no more delays in all of that.”