By Cate McCurry, PA
Michelle O’Neill has accused Sir Jeffrey Donaldson of “scaremongering” over his claims that the Northern Ireland Protocol delayed some heart surgeries from taking place.
The Sinn Féin Stormont leader said that the DUP leader needs a “reality check” after he claimed that access to medicines has been “impaired” by the protocol.
In her address to the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Dublin, Ms O’Neill told assembled party members that Mr Donaldson is “incapable” of accepting that the protocol is working.
The DUP has prevented an assembly and executive from being formed in protest over the protocol, which places additional post-Brexit checks on some goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“You see, it is an irrefutable fact that the protocol is working, and that Jeffrey Donaldson is incapable of accepting that is the case,” Ms O’Neill said.
“He has now been rebuffed on numerous occasions in the past week about his misleading claims.
“Including scaremongering about vital medical care. Jeffrey doesn’t just need a fact-check, he needs a reality check.
“Most working people, businesses and key sectors I meet want the British Government to urgently reach a negotiated settlement with the EU around the protocol.
“They want certainty and stability so they can invest for the future taking full advantage of our access to the EU single market and the benefits this brings to our economy.
“We welcome the unstinting support of the White House and Congress. This was reaffirmed in a call between President Biden and the British Prime Minister last week.
“We must defend and protect the gains of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to reach a negotiated agreement with the European Union.
“We welcome the new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting with European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.
“What we all want to see is a deal done to make the protocol work better.
“But for the avoidance of doubt. Neither the Assembly or the Executive has any mandate or role in these negotiations.
“So holding back powersharing in the meantime is simply to punish the public.
“This is reckless and it needlessly polarises our society and politics.”
She called for London and Brussels to “propel” the talks to resolve the outstanding issues around the protocol.
Earlier this week, when asked about people on long waiting lists, Sir Jeffrey said work is done every day to help those who require medical care, but the matter “isn’t helped when access to medicines is impaired and inhibited” by the protocol.
“It is not acceptable when people who are waiting on vital cardiac surgery in the Southern Trust are told they can’t have their treatment because parts for an angiogram machine are not available in Great Britain and have to be ordered from Germany,” Mr Donaldson said.
“And three weeks later, those people are waiting on their surgery and then have to be referred to the Belfast Trust for their treatment. How does that help people on waiting lists?”
In a statement to the PA news agency, the Southern Health and Social Care Trust said replacement parts were sought for some of its cardiac equipment in August from both the UK and Ireland.
It said equipment had to be sourced from Germany due to its size.