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26/09/2021

DUP leader issues challenge for Sinn Féin to restore power sharing government on her visit to Derry

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On a visit to Derry at the weekend following six nights of trouble in the Bogside, DUP leader Arlene Foster conceded that now more than ever there is a need for a functioning government to deal with social and economic problems that exist in the North. Many, including Independent Councillors and trade unionists in Derry have pointed to a direct correlation between the violence that erupted and a lack of social and economic development in the city, which in their view has particularly 'marginalised' working class areas. What started out as youths engaging in seemingly annual attacks on the Fountain estate ahead of July 12, was deemed to have been ‘exploited’ by dissident republicans and turned in to six days of consecutive violence in which gunshots were fired and improvised explosives thrown at police. It has been suggested in some quarters that a political vacuum in Northern Ireland has directly contributed to these events and political activist and member of People Before Profit, Eamonn McCann, has criticised ‘establishment politicians who have increasingly stoked division’ over the past eighteen months. When asked by Derry News on Saturday if there is a need to restore the Executive to deal with these problems, Mrs Foster said: “Absolutely, we need an Executive, we need devolution and I hope that Sinn Féin has got that message as well, that we need to be in a functioning Executive to deal with all of these issues, but of course it is about a multi-agency approach, is it about strong policing and is about community leadership as well and I commend those who are in positions of community leadership either in the Bogside or in the Fountain who are trying to deal with these issues. “I hope very much that Sinn Féin will listen to the voices of the people and come back in to devolution very quickly, because that’s we want, we have a mandate from last year, let’s stand on that mandate and get on with it.” In response Sinn Féin said it wants to restore the political institutions but only once the DUP ‘ends its blockade on the delivery of rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else in these islands.’ Exactly one week on from an escalation in violence in the Bogside, and after a weekend of calm, Arlene Foster arrived in Derry to visit people affected by the unrest. She branded dissident Republicans as ‘reprehensible’ and said they will not be allowed to proceed with their ‘campaign against people living in the Fountain’. Mrs Foster took the opportunity to converse with residents of the Fountain estate about their experiences since the trouble flared on June 28. Residents spoke of their fears following attacks, which have been largely confined to the Bogside since police stationed themselves at the interface on Bishop Street and on the City Walls. As part of her visit Mrs Foster spoke to elderly residents of Alexander House, including the first tenant to ever live there when it opened seventeen years ago Eamonn Melaugh, and 73-year-old Susanna Kelly - whose flat overlooks Nailors Row, where some of the early rioting was concentrated. Mr Melaugh said residents have put up with violence for a long time before it died down several years ago. “Now it looks like it’s going to rear its ugly head again. You see, there’s an element of people who would call themselves republicans who are organising this, and you cannot reason anybody out of something they were never reasoned in to, so it’s going to continue. “Hopefully it’ll die out, I think Arlene Foster and others should come together, get back in and start to be seen to be doing things for situations like this,” he said. As Mrs Foster made her way to the City Walls she encountered one young local who shared a few choice words and while on the Walls a man from East Belfast challenged her about the removal of a July 12 bonfire from the area in which he lives. However, the DUP leader remained upbeat about tourism in Derry after seeing many visitors on guided tours and believed the July 12 Orange Order march in the city was a success. “That’s really what we want, for people to view the history and the culture. We want those who have been involved in criminality and violence to get the message that they don’t speak for anybody here in Northern Ireland. “The 12th itself here was a success and I was delighted to see that happening but those who engaged in violence before and indeed after it was very distressing for the people that live here in the city and for those of us watching on as well. "We want to see an end to it, we want to support the police in what they’re doing and we commend the police for the actions they have taken over this past week.” She expressed condemnation about news of an attack on the home of former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams on Friday night, saying that everybody should be able ‘to live in peace in their own home’. Political, civic, and Church leaders have said they want no return to bullets, either metal or plastic on the streets of Derry. When asked whether she believed the use of plastic bullets against rioters in Fahan Street on July 12 was excessive, Mrs Foster said: “That’s an operational matter for police, they assessed that that was the appropriate response to what was going on, on the ground at that time and I support them in their operational decisions.” She also took reassurance from rallies organised in support of the Fountain community and against the violence. However, addressing the actions of dissident Republicans, she added: “I don’t think the dissident republican groups are going to take any leadership from me but what I will say to them is that they will not break the people of the Fountain, they will not be allowed to proceed in relation to their campaign against those people who live in the Fountain, and for their attacks on police, it is completely reprehensible and they should be brought to justice through the courts system.” In response to Mrs Foster’s challenge to ‘bring back devolution’, Foyle Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said: "Sinn Féin wants the political institutions restored on the basis of genuine power sharing and equality and respect for all. "The DUP walked away from an agreement they made in February this year when they collapsed the political talks. "The DUP should end its blockade on the delivery of rights enjoyed by citizens everywhere else in these islands, marriage rights, language rights, women's rights and the right to a legacy inquest. "These issues are not going away, they must be resolved by dialogue and in the absence of that the British and Irish governments have a responsibility as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement to ensure citizens in the north have an equivalence of rights and they must use the British and Irish Intergovernmental Conference to map out a way forward."

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