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Pro-unification Michelle O’Neill becomes Northern Ireland prime minister

Photo: Paul Faith Agence France-Presse Sinn Féin's 47-year-old leader, Michelle O'Neill, was announced as Prime Minister following the restart of the Northern Ireland provincial institutions on Saturday at Stormont Palace.

Peter Murphy – Agence France-Presse in Belfast

February 3, 2024

  • Europe

Michelle O'Neill on Saturday became the first leader in favor of the unification of Ireland to take the helm of the Northern Irish government, a historic shift in the British province with a past scarred by three decades of bloody conflict.

Northern Ireland's Sinn Féin leader, 47, has been named prime minister after the province's institutions restarted. These had been blocked for two years due to the boycott by the DUP unionists to oppose post-Brexit trade arrangements which they denounced as a threat to Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom.

In front of elected officials gathered at Stormont Palace, Michelle O'Neill hailed “a historic day”, a “new era” and promised an assembly “for all”, stressing that it would have been “unimaginable for [his] parents’ generation” that a nationalist heads the local executive.

“We must never forget those who lost their lives or were injured, and their families,” she added of the “Troubles,” which left 3,500 dead. “I am sorry for all the lives lost during the conflict, without exception,” she insisted, expressing her determination to continue the work of reconciliation: “we cannot change the past [but] we can build a better future.”

US President Joe Biden welcomed the restart of institutions in Northern Ireland, calling it an “important step” for the future of the province.

He said in a statement that he hoped that this “return to the stability of a power-sharing government strengthens the peace dividend, restores public services and continues to build on the immense progress made over the past recent decades.”

Under the co-governance resulting from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended three decades of conflict, Michelle O'Neill will have at her side a Unionist Deputy Prime Minister, Emma Little -Pengelly.

Sinn Féin came first in the May 2022 elections, an unprecedented shift for this formation, once the political showcase of the IRA (Irish Republican Army), but the political impasse prevented Michelle O'Neill from 'access its functions.

Local government, competent in areas such as housing, health, employment, agriculture and the environment, must be formed. Current affairs had been managed by the administration and London for two years due to the blockage which caused exasperation among the population.

After months of negotiations with the British government, unionists from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced their decision this week to end their boycott. This led to the paralysis of the Assembly and the local executive, where power is shared between the unionists – committed to keeping Northern Ireland within the British fold – and the republicans.

Border Puzzle

Highlighting the difficult road ahead, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson argued his party had “brought about the change that many described as impossible”. He hailed a “good day for Northern Ireland”, where “our place within the United Kingdom and its internal market is respected and protected”.

An argument far from convincing the hardest unionists, like Jim Allister (TUV, Traditional Unionist Voice), for whom Northern Ireland remains “directed largely by foreign laws », those of the EU.

In the implementation of Brexit, one of the main difficulties was to find a solution which avoids the return of a physical border between the Republic of Ireland, a member of the EU, and the British province, while protecting the integrity of the single European market.

A modification of these provisions negotiated between London and Brussels a year ago, called the “Windsor framework” and reducing controls on goods, was not enough to convince the DUP.< /p>

But the Unionist Party led by Jeffrey Donaldson ended up accepting an agreement with the British government this week, believing that this text offers sufficient guarantees and that it removes the border in the Irish Sea that it denounced.

The restart of Northern Irish institutions will also allow London to release an envelope of 3.3 billion pounds sterling (around 3.9 billion euros) to support public services, which recently experienced a strike of historic proportions.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116