Sinn Féin and Irish nationalism have reached a historic milestone as Michelle O’Neill has been selected as the first minister in Northern Ireland’s restored devolved government.
The Stormont assembly selected the first nationalist first minister for the region, hailing from County Tyrone.
In his inaugural speech, O’Neill chose not to boast and did not directly address the topic of Irish unification. Instead, he centered on promoting harmony and addressing practical matters.
She stated, “No matter our backgrounds or goals, it is crucial that we work together to create our future.” “We have a responsibility to effectively lead and serve all members of our society, regardless of their community.”
The appointment of a republican first minister represented “a new dawn” unimaginable to previous generations that grew up with discrimination against Catholics, said O’Neill. “That state is now gone.”
O’Neill and Little-Pengelly will share leadership of the executive. Little-Pengelly, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party, was chosen as deputy first minister, a role with equal authority but lower status.
The devolved government met again following the departure of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Stormont on February 3, 2022. The party had protested against post-Brexit trade agreements that they believed weakened the region’s position in the UK. After receiving concessions from the UK government that improved the Irish Sea border, the party agreed to end their boycott this week.
In May 2022, O’Neill, the deputy leader of Sinn Féin, became the first minister after the republican party won the assembly election, surpassing the DUP as the largest party. This represented a significant symbolical and psychological change.
Members elected Edwin Poots, the former leader of DUP, as speaker.
O’Neill had downplayed constitutional matters leading up to the event, but Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald recently stated that Irish unity is now close at hand.
Sinn Féin, the DUP, the Alliance, and the Ulster Unionist Party will divide ministerial roles using the D’Hondt method, taking into account each party’s level of support. However, the justice ministry will be determined through a cross-community vote. The Social Democratic and Labour Party will serve as the executive’s opposition.
The leader is confronted with a challenging array of issues, such as a financial emergency, deteriorating public services, and dwindling trust in the democratic system.
The reinstatement of Stormont will result in a £3.3bn plan, which includes salary increases for public sector employees who have participated in several strikes. The UK government had offered this package on the condition that the institutions established by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement were revived. Donaldson stated that the parties will also request additional funds from the Treasury, as they view the financial aspect as unresolved business that they aim to finalize.
The return of power sharing has been welcomed by business leaders and the Irish government, who believe it will bring stability after experiencing years of turmoil due to Brexit.
On Wednesday, the government announced new regulations aimed at facilitating trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These regulations eliminate standard inspections for goods from Great Britain that are meant to stay in Northern Ireland and introduce a “UK internal market system” for goods that stay within the UK.
On Thursday, the House of Commons passed the alterations without a formal vote, even though Brexit supporters expressed worries about the area still being subject to EU regulations.