Sunday 23 April 2017

Mary Lou fails to rule out Adams' return to North as assembly election looms

Mary Lou McDonald has not ruled out Gerry Adams replacing Martin McGuinness as the Deputy First Minister
Mary Lou McDonald has not ruled out Gerry Adams replacing Martin McGuinness as the Deputy First Minister

Mary Lou McDonald has left the door open to the possibility of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams returning to Northern Ireland politics to replace Martin McGuinness as Deputy First Minister.

Ms McDonald failed to rule out Mr Adams stepping in for Mr McGuinness, who is suffering from poor health, ahead of an election in the North due to take place in the coming weeks.

Mr McGuinness yesterday made the shock decision to step down as Deputy First Minister and collapse the Northern Ireland Assembly over the 'cash for ash' scandal.

Looking and sounding frail, the former IRA commander denied he resigned over health concerns and refused to say if he would contend the election.

Asked if Mr Adams would return to Northern Ireland in the likely event that Mr McGuinness would not run in the upcoming election, Ms McDonald said, "that issue doesn't arise".

Collapse

"Martin hasn't taken any decision so leave that decision for him to make in the first instance," she added.

She also denied Mr Adams was influential in Mr McGuinness' decision to collapse the power-sharing executive.

"Martin arrived at his decision in his own time and by himself but of course he brought that position and decision to firstly the Sinn Fein officer board, some of us are members, and then to the Sinn Fein ard chomhairle," she said.

Ms McDonald confirmed the North is heading into an election and insisted Sinn Fein would be seeking a new deal after the vote, which will mean a decision will have to be taken on Mr McGuinness soon.

Mr McGuinness has led the the Northern Ireland Assembly for 10 years and there is no clear successor to the long-serving Sinn Fein politician.

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir and Health Minister Michelle O'Neill were mentioned as possible contenders to replace Mr McGuinness should he decide to step away from public life.

Meanwhile, Ms McDonald turned down an offer from Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster to begin talks aimed at establishing an inquiry into the 'cash for ash' scandal.

She said Sinn Fein would still be open to forming a new power-sharing executive with the DUP if Ms Foster remained as leader after the election.

Ms Foster wanted to begin an investigation into the flawed renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme by the end of the week.

However, Ms McDonald said the "fact remains" Ms Foster would have to step aside if an inquiry was to take place.

She said Ms Foster and her party are "living in a state of denial" and need to realise "the game is up".

Last night, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and UK Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to work closely to resolve the crisis in the North before an election is due to be called next week.

Mr Kenny and Mrs May spoke by telephone as both Ireland and the UK increased efforts to prevent an Assembly election in Northern Ireland.

During the 15-minute conversation, the two leaders agreed the current situation was "very serious" and every effort should be made to reach an agreement between the parties over the ongoing 'cash for ash' scandal.

Frustration

It was agreed that the two governments would work closely throughout the crisis and there was special emphasis placed on the role to be played by Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan and Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire.

Mrs May is due to make a state visit to Ireland in the coming weeks when she will hold her first formal talks with the Taoiseach on Brexit.

The Prime Minister is expected to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March which will begin the official process of Britain leaving the EU.

However, there is growing frustration within Government over Britain's Brexit strategy which has been kept a closely guarded secret.

EU Commissioner Phil Hogan attacked Britain's behaviour during the process of leaving the EU on Monday saying: "Brexit is a mess and it is only getting messier."

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