The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has urged senior members of the DUP to force Arlene Foster from her position as First Minister to allow all political industries to be properly directed at the looming Brexit challenge.
Mr Eastwood said it was time for an intervention by the largest unionist party’s executive committee.
“Arlene Foster’s initial denials have now turned to desperation,” said the Foyle MLA.
“It is time the DUP now accepted that each and all of their tactics have failed. We are long since past the point of no return for Arlene Foster and this crisis has gone on far too long. The DUP have run out of road.
“It is now decision time for senior members of the DUP - party loyalty must have its limits. No one individual should be bigger than their party and no one individual can be bigger than the privileged office they occupy,” he added.
However, Mr Eastwood said that if the DUP’s senior leadership doesn’t act, the SDLP is already on an election footing.
“If the coming days lead to an election, the SDLP is ready to fight it. We are prepared to give the public an opportunity to a vote for a real alternative and a real fresh start. If an election is what it takes to dilute Arlene Foster’s arrogance, then so be it,” he said.
“However the DUP should understand that an election will only act to delay the fate which now inevitably faces Arlene Foster. If Christmas hasn’t saved her, an election won’t either.”
“We are also clear that whatever the outcome of an election our demands will remain the same - Arlene Foster must step aside and a full public inquiry must be established.”
Following Gerry Adams’ declaration on Saturday that Sinn Féin had made power-sharing work in spite of provocations from its unionist partners but had now drawn a red line over a demanded sabbatical for Mrs Foster, Mr Eastwood claimed republicans were finally following the SDLP’s lead.
“It seems that Sinn Féin have finally woken up to the fact that the DUP have been running rings around them in Government - and not just on this issue.
“Instead of Gerry Adams intervening to construct an investigation which may be acceptable to the DUP, he should join with the rest of us in demanding an inquiry which is acceptable to the public. “I would also warn Sinn Féin that the removal of the Speaker, though absolutely necessary, offers no resolution to the public’s anger on the RHI scandal.”
Mr Eastwood said Mrs Foster and the RHI saga were distracting from huge challenges looming in the months ahead.
“Amidst this ongoing crisis we must also be mindful of the broader political context. Brexit represents one of the biggest changes and challenges on these islands in living memory. It will require every ounce of our political effort and attention.”
“All the more reason therefore to move swiftly to deal with the distraction of Arlene Foster’s continued tenure - we can then get back to dealing properly with enormity of the Brexit challenge faced by this island.”