Interview: Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland leader Michelle O’Neill on fight to secure equal marriage, dealing with the DUP

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - MARCH 22: Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O'Neill addresses the invited guests as the unveiling of the official Assembly portrait of former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness takes place inside the Great Hall at Stormont on March 22, 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Martin McGuinness passed away one year ago after a brief illness, before he died he resigned as his position as Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister, the province has beeen without a government since that time. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Sinn Féin’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, speaks to PinkNews in Westminster – ahead of a bid to bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland via the UK Parliament.

Q. This month a bill is coming to the UK Parliament that seeks to finally bring equal marriage to Northern Ireland. Do you support this?

Yes. We have no government in the North at the moment, we haven’t had for 14 months, and one of the issues that’s right at the heart of the political impasse is the fact that we weren’t able to secure marriage equality in the Assembly despite quite a number of attempts.

There was a blocking mechanism used called the petition of concern, which has been used to block any progress on this issue. I was very clear throughout the negotiations that if I wasn’t able to secure it as a deal with the DUP, we would go an alternative route.

Obviously, as an Irish Republican, it does not sit easily with me that we would legislate here in Westminster – but we believe there is a way to do it, which is written into the Good Friday Agremeent, which is a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference with the two governments working together.

The two governments have responsibility within the agreement for equality and rights, and for me this fits into that category.

We are happy and content that this is a route that can hopefully lead to a positive outcome for our citizens who just want the same rights that people have elsewhere. It’s a very reasonable request.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams (R) and Northern Leader Michelle O’Neill join gay rights campaigners in a march through Belfast on July 1, 2017 to protest against the ban on same-sex marriage. (Photo by PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Q. As an Irish Republican, it’s a pretty bold stance to support legislation going through Westminster…. I imagine there aren’t many issues you would say that for?

That’s true, it doesn’t sit easy with us at all, but sometimes you have to put the issues of people before your own views.

We do believe that we don’t want to see carte blanche everything going through Westminster and imposed – but because we have the Intergovernmental Conference, because the two governments have co-responsibility for equality and for rights, that allows us a way for this to be delivered.

If it goes through we would be delighted, because it’s something that shouldn’t be denied in this day and age.

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