Great Britain

Sinn Féin designates deputy first minister to avert Stormont crisis

Sinn Féin will nominate Michelle O’Neill as deputy first minister at Stormont after the party president, Mary Lou McDonald, said she received a commitment from the UK government to legislate for Irish language protections at Westminster.

McDonald earlier said she was going to meet the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, as her party and the DUP attempted to avert a fresh political crisis at Stormont.

Lewis flew into Belfast earlier in the day saying he was exploring “all options” in efforts to keep power-sharing on track.

At 12.22am on Thursday, McDonald tweeted: “The British Govt has tonight agreed to legislate for Acht Gaeilge.

“This is the only way to break the cycle of DUP obstruction of rights. Sinn Féin will nominate [Michelle O’Neill] as deputy first minister. We have important work ahead.”

Earlier, Sinn Féin members left Stormont about 7.30pm in a three-car convoy that drove past the media without making a promised stop for comment.

The DUP leader, Edwin Poots, and the first minister designate, Paul Givan, left a meeting with Lewis at about 8.45pm. The pair also drove from Stormont House without speaking to the media.

The meetings came amid a standoff between Sinn Féin and the DUP over the appointment of a new first and deputy first minister, and the introduction of Irish language legislation provided for in a deal known as New Decade, New Approach.

The former DUP leader Arlene Foster’s resignation as first minister on Monday set a seven-day clock running within which her successor, Givan, the member for the Lagan Valley, must be appointed. The joint nature of the office Foster shared with O’Neill in the latter’s first term as deputy first minister meant O’Neill was automatically removed from the post on Monday and had to be nominated again within those seven days.

However, Sinn Féin had made clear it would not renominate, a move that would collapse the devolved executive, unless the DUP agreed to press ahead with legislating on the Irish language.

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