Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said she will not be deterred after learning of a dissident plot against her.
The Deputy First Minister said she had been told by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) that they have received intelligence of a plan by dissidents to attack both her and Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly.
It comes one week after Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly attended a PSNI recruitment event, a move which Chief Constable Simon Byrne hailed as “seismic and historic”.
It was the first time such a senior Sinn Fein figure had attended a recruitment campaign launch for the PSNI and comes amid concern that progress to address under-representation of Catholic officers in the organisation has stalled and is starting to go in a backward direction.
First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the threats against Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly, saying there is “no place for threats or violence”.
Speaking at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said that she and Mr Kelly are taking precautions as a consequence, and vowed to protect their families.
“I have been told by the PSNI that they have intelligence that dissident republicans are planning an attack against myself and Gerry Kelly,” Ms O’Neill said.
“We have families, I have two children, I have a mother who will be very worried; Gerry has family who will also be very worried so we have to protect our families.
“But we have a job to do, we are elected, we have a mandate, we want to bring about change. We are trying to build a better society and we will not be deterred by people who do not have a strategy to move forward in terms of the Irish Republican project.”
Police told them about the threat on Tuesday.
It comes after a weekend of significant gains for Sinn Fein in the Irish general election, and also a week after Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly attended a PSNI event.
“We are also aware this comes on the back of both myself and Gerry attending the PSNI recruitment fair last week,” Ms O’Neill said.
“So let me be very clear, dissident republicans have no strategy, they have no plan, they have no progress towards Irish unity and I think this intelligence comes at a time when we have never been closer to Irish unity.
“I will not be deterred. Gerry Kelly will not be deterred. Sinn Fein will not be deterred from trying to build a better society.”
In a statement Mrs Foster said: “We live in a democracy. The ballot box is how we effect change, not through the bomb or bullet.
“Whether in 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2020, violence from every hue must be condemned. There is no place for threats or violence.”
DUP Policing Board representative Mervyn Storey added: “The warped justification given by these individuals for their vicious intentions is that Sinn Fein were wrong to attend the launch of the recent police officer recruitment campaign.
“Rather than retreat from this long overdue and necessary leadership promoting a policing career in nationalist communities we would instead urge Sinn Fein to build on their recent position and reject the opposition of those who have been rejected time after time by the public.”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood condemned the threats against Ms O’Neill and Mr Kelly as ‘an attack not just on one party but on the peace we’ve all fought for’.
‘Those behind it are setting themselves against the Irish people and they will never win. My thoughts are with Michelle, Gerry and their families today,’ he posted on Twitter.
Picture: Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill with MLA Gerry Kelly speaking in Parliament Buildings in Belfast. They revealed they have been informed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland about a dissident republican plot against them. (Sinn Fein/PA).