Governance in Northern Ireland would likely involve a joint agreement between the UK and Irish governments if power-sharing is not restored at Stormont, Michelle O’Neill said.
The Sinn Fein VP reiterated her call for the DUP to end its blockade on decentralization in Belfast after London and Brussels reached a deal on post-Brexit trade.
Unionists have previously reacted angrily to any suggestion of Irish involvement in the governance of Northern Ireland without decentralization.
While Ms O’Neill gave a “cautious” welcome to the Windsor framework agreement as a whole, she said her party had some concerns about the “Stormont brake” and the possibility it could create further problems in the application of future EU laws in Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader said the outcome of last May’s general election must be honored and power-sharing restored.
“We obviously had a very historic election last May, for the first time ever a nationalist was returned as First Minister and I find myself in the position of First Minister-elect,” she told Sky News.
“The DUP has so far failed to honor this election, but I still hope they will make it to this point because power-sharing is how politics works in the North.
“We have a special and unique circumstance because of the Good Friday Agreement and there is no other alternative.
“Probably the alternative to power-sharing would probably be an agreement between the UK and Irish governments.”
The Stormont parties will be briefed on how the brake will work by UK government officials in the coming week.
The mechanism offers a minority of MLAs (30 from at least two parties) the opportunity to raise their concerns about the introduction of new EU legislation in Northern Ireland to the UK Government. The government could then possibly veto the application of these laws in the region.
Ms O’Neill said it would be “appropriate” that the two parties should come from different traditions in Northern Ireland to avoid a scenario where either unionists or nationalists could pull the brakes alone.
“I think it’s all very reasonable,” she told RTE Radio One.
“What we don’t want to see here is that in order to try to square the circle and get that agreement, we don’t want to see that they created a new problem.
“But yes, absolutely nobody should be able to block for political reasons.
“This mechanism is something that seems like it should only be used when there’s something that has a significant impact, as opposed to anything that might be inherently trivial.”
The DUP has yet to decide whether it supports the Windsor Framework.
The UK and EU hope their proposed framework for changes to the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol will be enough to persuade the party to return to decentralized government.
While the DUP has made it clear that it will make a collective decision that takes into account the views of the party as a whole, some prominent DUP figures, including Sammy Wilson, Lord Dodds and Ian Paisley, have already expressed concerns about the changes to the trade agreements in of the Irish Sea go far enough to address their trade and sovereignty concerns.
Ms O’Neill said it was time for the DUP to show “leadership” and agree to restoring power-sharing while it continues its process of considering the deal.
“They chose a tactic on purpose, they decided to step away from the executive to influence the negotiations (between the UK and the EU) but the negotiations are now closed so there is no reason for them to be outside the executive to stay,” she told Sky News.
“You should be back at the board table and dealing with the business of the day. And then yeah let’s work through all the details in the deal because I have some concerns too, particularly on this question of a Stormont brake and what that might look like and how it could be used because I certainly don’t have a no deal should replace a problem with a problem.
“But these are things we can do while we’re on the executive branch at the same time.”
Ms O’Neill said Northern Ireland’s continued access to the single market represents a major opportunity for the region.
She said the opportunity could be maximized if power-sharing is restored ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, with the potential of a visit by US President Joe Biden and international attention focused on Northern Ireland.
Ms O’Neill said the DUP could not deliberate “indefinitely” on whether to accept the Windsor framework and return to decentralisation.
“We have that unique selling proposition now and I want to maximize that and I want the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement to be a big catalyst for investment here on top of that opportunity and that shouldn’t be missed,” she said.
“The DUP cannot go on like this indefinitely. Yes, everyone wants to do their due diligence, but then get around the table and work with the rest of us to make the policy work.”
The Northern Ireland Office insisted it would not support a joint agency arrangement in Northern Ireland involving the Irish Government.
Responding to Ms O’Neill’s comments, an NIO spokesman said: “We are not considering any changes to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and we will not consider any joint authority.
“Our sole focus is to ensure Northern Ireland has a locally elected, accountable and effective devolved government in line with the deal – to protect the gains it has made over the past 25 years.
“We have made it clear that we will back up the Windsor Framework agreements with amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to provide constitutional and democratic guarantees to the people of Northern Ireland. We will provide more details in the coming weeks.”