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O’Neill stands by criticism of Taoiseach following exit

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has stood by her criticism of Leo Varadkar after the Tánaiste branded her comments “very partisan”.

Micheál Martin said Michelle O’Neill’s remarks following Mr Varadkar’s announcement he was stepping down as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael “left a lot to be desired”.

In a press conference in Belfast, Sinn Féin vice president Ms O’Neill accused Mr Varadkar’s party Fine Gael of 13 years of “failure” as she insisted it was time for a general election in the Republic of Ireland.

She was making the comments as First Minister in a joint appearance alongside DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

“It’s not a time for a rearranging of the deckchairs,” Ms O’Neill said.

“And, ultimately, it’s for the people to decide who will be the Taoiseach.

“So I think it’s now over to the people, there should be an election, people should have a chance to pass their verdict, particularly after 13 years of Fine Gael in power, 13 years of failure on their part, 13 years of failure to build houses, 13 years of failure to support people through the cost-of-living crisis.

“So, ultimately, what we now need to see is an election.”

Mr Martin referred to the remarks as he sparred with Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty in the Dáil.

He said they stood in contrast to Sinn Féin’s “glowing” welcome for the recently announced increase in Irish government funding for Northern Ireland through its Shared Island Fund.

“Just last week your party were calling us and acknowledged and thanked the Government in terms of the Shared Island initiative and huge funding in Northern Ireland,” he told Mr Doherty.

“I thought the comments from your First Minister left a lot to be desired.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin felt O’Neill’s comment left a lot to be desired FILE PHOTO

“We’ve done more in respect of cross-border development and investment in Northern Ireland than any government for many a year.”

Speaking to reporters in Hillsborough, Ms O’Neill was asked whether she believed her remarks were appropriate and if she had struck the correct tone for a Stormont First Minister passing comment on the resignation of the Taoiseach.

While she said she had not heard Mr Martin’s comments in the Dáil, she added: “What I can say is I’m quite sure the Tánaiste, as a coalition partner, would rather talk about anything other than his performance and their performance in Government.

“On a personal basis, I wish Leo Varadkar the very best, I wish him very well in terms of his personal life and whatever life may hold for him next.

“I think that’s only the courteous thing to do.

“But I think I was responding to a question yesterday in terms of what should happen next in terms of the replacement of Taoiseach.”

In the same press conference, Ms Little-Pengelly had remarked that unionism “did not always see eye-to-eye with Leo Varadkar” but she wished him well.

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