Irish interests must be protected whatever the vote, insists Sinn Fein

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By Rebecca Black PA

Whatever the outcome of the House of Commons vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, Irish interests must be protected, the Sinn Fein president has insisted.

Mary Lou McDonald described the stakes as "very high" as MPs prepare to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan on Tuesday.

She claimed "many in the British political establishment have played a game of chicken with Ireland, and with Irish interests", and blasted that as "a disreputable way to carry out your politics".

Flanked by Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir and party vice president Michelle O'Neill as she spoke to the media at Stormont, Ms McDonald said whatever transpires at Westminster, "it is essential that Irish interests are protected north and south".

"That has been our objective from the get go and that is the message we have consistently shared with the British Government and indeed our partners at a European level," she said.

"We have commitments from our partners at a European level, that the needs of this island north and south have been recognised and understood, and will be protected in the most fundamental of ways and we expect that those commitments will be honoured."

Ms McDonald went on to describe the Irish backstop as the "bottom line", and claimed that anyone seeking to "dilute" the backstop "isn't dealing in political realities".

She blasted the position of the Democratic Unionist Party opposing the backstop as "reckless and irresponsible".

"It certainly is not in the interests of the people of the north of Ireland," she said.

The Sinn Fein president also commented on meetings between Northern Ireland's parties on Monday at Stormont.

Ms McDonald described the two-year collapse of devolved government at Stormont as a "matter of great frustration to us".

The powersharing institutions collapsed in January 2017 following a break down in relations between the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein.

Numerous rounds of political talks have failed to see Stormont restored, with Sinn Fein's call for an Irish language act among the sticking points.

Ms McDonald said her party regards the ongoing lack of local government as a "disgrace".

"That is plainly because others have sought to deny our fundamental rights, basic rights to sections of our society, and that's an intolerable situation," she said.

When asked how her party's meeting with the Democratic Unionists had gone, Ms McDonald said she had had a "good conversation" with Arlene Foster, but said she did not detect any shift in the party's positions.

"I am always very conscious of the need for dialogue, but I don't have a sense there has been any move, or shift or reassessment in the DUP positions," she said.

"I think that is a very great pity, I don't believe that is a sustainable position from their point of view.

"I had a good conversation with Arlene Foster, we set out our respective positions, and I have set out for her very clearly that the rights of sections of our community can't be denied by the DUP.

"We have a very determined focus on having genuine, full-blooded powersharing where respect and parity of esteem is not just political rhetoric but actually is the reality in terms of how we do our work."

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