Grainne Ni Aodha, PA
Mary Lou McDonald has played down the significance of Sinn Féin backed newspaper adverts in the US calling for a date for an Irish unity referendum.
The Sinn Féin president’s comments came after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar branded the ads unhelpful.
Mr Varadkar expressed concern at the publication of the adverts at what he described as a “sensitive moment” in efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland.
Paid for by Friends of Sinn Féin Inc, they were carried in papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post on Wednesday morning.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson criticised the adverts, saying it was “incredible” that Sinn Féin was focusing on a “divisive border poll campaign” that, he claimed, would create further divisions in Northern Ireland.
Ms McDonald, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill, Mr Varadkar and Mr Donaldson are among the politicians in Washington this week for St Patrick’s Day events.
Asked about the adverts at a gala dinner in the US capital, the Sinn Féin leader said: “They’re ads from Irish American organisations whose view on reunification is well known and held for a very long time and they take out ads every year.
“So, the focus now needs to be on getting back to work (at Stormont), whatever your political persuasion, whatever your view on the constitutional issue, we need the Assembly and we need government back up and running.”
The week of high-profile engagements in Washington come at a time when the DUP continues to consider whether it will accept the EU and UK’s new post-Brexit deal on trading arrangements for Northern Ireland – the Windsor Framework.
Earlier this week, Mr Donaldson said the framework does not deal with some “fundamental problems” created by the contentious Northern Ireland Protocol.
The DUP is currently blocking the functioning of devolution in Belfast in protest at the trade barriers the protocol has created between Britain and Northern Ireland.
Ms McDonald said it was reasonable for the DUP to seek clarification on the deal, but she made clear it would not be renegotiated. She insisted the DUP should drop its Stormont boycott while it was deliberating on the framework.
“I think it’s very clear on this side of the Atlantic that there is a huge anticipation of progress on the resumption of government,” she said.
“I think it’s very clear that there’s huge support and a big international focus on what happens in Ireland. And I really, really hope that people grasp this opportunity with great positivity. The negotiation is over, the agreement has been struck.
“The DUP have questions for clarification. I acknowledge that and I think that’s reasonable. So do we (have questions), but the reality is that we need to get the Assembly back up and running and we need the executive to work for everybody.”