Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill says Northern Ireland needs to catch up with south on equality at the PinkNews summer reception in Belfast

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said that Northern Ireland needs to work harder to align with its southern counterparts on LGBT+ equality at the PinkNews summer reception in Belfast, supported by Citi.

O’Neill, speaking at the Parliament of Northern Ireland in the country’s capital on Thursday (June 28), said: “When you look back at the equal marriage referendum [in 2015], it was a euphoric. It came about in the south. What was once a conservative state is no longer.”

O’Neill also referred the recent Repeal the 8th campaign in the Republic of Ireland as a milestone, adding: “Much more needs to be done, the focus is [now] here in north.”

“Leaders need to deliver the change,” she said. “People here must enjoy same rights as everyone else.

O’Neill said that not only must Northern Ireland embrace same-sex marriage, but make reforms to laws around gender recognition, adoption and transphobic bullying.

“I want to work with the DUP, SDLP, Alliance, to shape a more progressive country where everyone belongs and no one faces discrimination,” she said.

A cross-party group of Northern Irish politicians gathered at the third of many regional receptions held by PinkNews to debate LGBT+ topics from education to same-sex marriage.

Michelle O’Neill (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

Politicians and campaigners from across the ideological spectrum came together to hear Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, O’Neill and other prominent figures speak on current LGBT+ issues, celebrate the achievements of Northern Ireland’s LGBT+ community and highlight what is still to be done.

O’Neill, who has been a member of the Northern Irish Parliament for 11 years, exclusively told PinkNews earlier this year that MPs in the UK Parliament need to help the country bring through equal marriage.

The 41-year-old politician gave her backing to the move – even though, as republicans, Sinn Féin does not typically recognise the authority of the UK Parliament over Northern Ireland.

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)

O’Neill inside the Great Hall at Stormont (Charles McQuillan/Getty)

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK that continues to ban same-sex marriage, due to opposition from the ultra-conservative DUP.

O’Neill also called the decision of a Belfast church to show a gay ‘cure’ film “absolutely disgusting,” adding that “churches have a responsibility – it’s not just people in politics, it’s society as a whole – to challenge stigma and nonsense like that.

“We can’t have people who lead communities behaving that way.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Michelle O'Neill, leader of Sinn Féin speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street on June 15, 2017 in London, England. Prime Minister Theresa May held a series of meetings with the main Northern Ireland political parties today to allay mounting concerns over a government deal with the DUP in the wake of the UK general election. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

O’Neill (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty)

On June 20, Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson told attendees at the PinkNews summer reception in Edinburgh that she was a proud “political party leader and pregnant lesbian.”

Prompting applause from the audience, Davidson, speaking at the Scottish Parliament in the country’s capital, said: “In my lifetime, people could be prosecuted for being in a loving same-sex relationship… we’ve seen these same couples who could have been prosecuted now able to marry their partner.

“And if we look at societal change, it’s even greater than that – I’m standing here leader of political party, a pregnant lesbian, my office is full of bibs and babygros and baby products,” she added, to applause from the audience.

Ruth Davidson speaks (Ashley Coombes)

“I still get hate mail, everyone does,” she added, “but it’s vastly outweighed by the kindness and support that we see all around the country.”

And on June 7, at the PinkNews summer reception in Cardiff the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, championed inclusive sex and relationship education.

PinkNews’ Cai Wilshaw and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones (Elizabeth Iafrate and Jon Pountney)

He told the audience: “Too often we just assume the LGBT community know politicians are on their side.”

“We’re going in the right direction but we are committed to going further. We want an education system based on equality.”

The PinkNews summer reception in Belfast was supported by Citi.