Form Executive now to give £600 energy payment to families - Michelle O'Neill
Today we meet for the fifth time since May to try elect a Speaker and reinstate this Assembly, and allow MLAs mandated by the electorate to represent and work here on their behalf to get on with the job.
And as we meet in the comfort of this well heated and well-lit building, I am acutely aware there are tens of thousands of families living in cold homes, unable to afford to turn on their heating, and worried about the next bill coming through their door as we face the most difficult winter in a generation.
Outside those family homes, our health service is in crisis, and the health workers are being forced to take strike action for decent pay and conditions, to defend themselves and the wider health service.
It’s a disgrace they are being forced into that position.
Yesterday in London, I met with the leadership of the Royal College of Nurses.
I want to send solidarity and support to the nurses from this Assembly today, to the other health and public sector workers also.
They have our full support and I think I speak for most people in this Assembly in calling on the British government, the people with the purse strings, to immediately get around the negotiating table to resolve this dispute over pay and patient safety.
The Secretary of State has now brought the Executive Formation Bill through Westminster to extend the deadline on forming a government or holding an election; giving decision-making powers to civil servants, and cutting MLA pay.
He has set out a budget statement and will bring forward an unadulterated Tory budget bill also.
Whilst they are trying to find their work arounds.
The central question is how are the government using the space they have created to now get a negotiated settlement with the EU, to work to restore the Executive and put to the test the DUP boycott.
I was in the Dáil last Thursday when European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen addressed parliamentarians the length and breadth of this island.
She said that Brexit will not become an obstacle to reconciliation in Ireland; that the single market must continue to function, and if both sides are sensitive to this ‘careful balance’ a deal can be done, and that there will be no hard border on the island.
She also said that her contacts with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are ‘encouraging’.
I once more welcome this contact, but appeal for negotiations to be intensified. We do not have months to ponder, but rather weeks to take action that creates stability and certainty for society, business and politics.
We cannot be left at the mercy of the Tories in London dictating priorities here where they have no votes and no mandate.
Already we are seeing the consequences of having no Executive.
Education is being cut with youth services being targeted with job losses and reduced provision now being imposed against the will of elected MLAs.
It is clear for all to see that the DUP’s political tactics is to abandon our people to a Tory government intent on inflicting cuts and austerity on the most vulnerable in our society.
That strategy, if it can be called a strategy, makes no sense and has no purpose. Incredibly, it is dictated by a handful of loyalist bloggers.
Jeffrey Donaldson, of course, is not here with us despite being elected to sit in this Assembly.
But I want to appeal to him and to the DUP MLAs who have come to this sitting, rethink your approach, reconsider your position and most of all to recognise the dire and deteriorating circumstances that people, your own voters are facing on a day-to-day basis.
The crisis in our Emergency Departments, the cuts to youth services, the very real prospect of cold faced by many of our people, particularly the old, the very young and those with disabilities.
People need our help.
They need us to do our jobs.
The public are rightly angry.
Each one of these societal challenges demands new thinking from us as elected representatives; demands a responsible and mature political response from us; and people need desperately to see an end to the DUP boycott of politics.
By any objective measure, the Protocol is working and is protecting our economy from some of the worst effects of Brexit.
We need to focus on the opportunity of dual market access and how our businesses benefit creating more jobs and building our economy.
And of course, the members opposite disagree and you are entitled to disagree.
But whatever about our different opinions on the Protocol, we are all know that any issues relating to the Protocol will not be resolved in this Chamber.
Last week the European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, restated the willingness of the Commission to resolve issues with how the Protocol is applied.
We all want these issues resolved and to see the economic and business stability and certainty that will flow from that agreement.
But in the meantime, we are elected to be in this Assembly, to be in an Executive delivering and defending our public services and protecting our society from a Tory administration that has no interest in us or our people.
So, I want to make a direct appeal to the party opposite. Come back into the Executive so we can fight for and deliver £600 out to the thousands of struggling families who so desperately need it.
This morning the Older People’s Commissioner said on radio people will not survive if they do not get this payment.
This cannot be taken lightly. It is scandalous that people are being left high and dry.
If we had an Executive that money would already be in people’s pockets. And shame on the DUP for blocking it. You have walked away.
The people and communities we all represent are struggling and facing the same challenges and I will have your back in these tough times and will not give up fighting on your behalf.
So, Jeffrey, pause your protest, elect a Speaker here today and let us all get back to the work we are mandated and paid to do.