‘Don’t be scared,’ Mary Lou McDonald tells unionists after Sinn Féin surge

“Don’t be scared,” was Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald’s message for unionists spooked by her party’s surge at the polls, lining up the North’s first ever nationalist first minister at Stormont.

“The future is bright for all of us,” she insisted.

Bright, but not orange, perhaps. Ms McDonald insisted it was “unthinkable” that unionist leaders would attempt to stymie the hugely, if only, symbolic elevation of Michelle O’Neill as the political figurehead for the region.

Amid suggestions from the Democratic Unionist Party that it would not be going back to Stormont unless there were changes to the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements, Ms McDonald warned voters would not stand for it.

It is “no time for theatrics” while people are being crippled by a cost-of-living crisis.

Speaking at Magherafelt count centre, in Co Derry, where Ms O’Neill made her victory speech on Saturday afternoon after topping the poll in Mid-Ulster, Ms McDonald urged a power-sharing government, with O’Neill at its helm, be established within days.

“At this point, we need good government and the kind of leadership that my friend and colleague Michelle O’Neill will bring in spades,” she said, at the Meadowbank Sports Arena.

“We are in circumstance where houses and families are struggling to put bread on the tables, struggling to heat their homes. This is not a time for theatrics. This is not a time for playing games.”

It is a time for “grown up, sensible partnership politics”, she was adamant.

“That is what people want and we look forward to an Executive being established and I look forward to Michele O’Neill being nominated as first minister, to lead from the front.”

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The idea that unionists would “stand on the sidelines and allow people to struggle and struggle badly” during soaring everyday fuel, utility and food costs is “unthinkable”, she added.

“We would appeal to everybody to take stock, take breath and really understand the huge responsibility that all of us carry, collectively.

“Collectively we have an obligation to get government up and running.”

Standing at her side, Ms O’Neill insisted: “The people have spoken.”

“Our job now is to turn up (at Stormont). Leadership matters, equality matters, turning up matters,” she told reporters and party supporters who mobbed the pair when they arrived late afternoon.

“There is no reason for any delay. We should have an Executive formed now – next week. We should agree a programme for government, to put money into people’s pockets. That is what people voted for.”

On the constitutional questio, the imminence or otherwise of a Border poll, Ms O’Neill stuck to the Sinn Fein playbook on the thorny issue for this election.

There is already “very healthy conversation” under way. Indeed, she encouraged those opposed to her own political cornerstone of a reunified Ireland to get involved in debate about “what our future looks like.”

And there was a message for Government Buildings too. “The Irish Government must create the conditions for that open conversation about constitutional change,” she said.

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