Photo: Paul Faith Agence France-Presse From left to right, the new Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Emma Little-Pengelly, the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, the British Minister for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the new First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill.
France Media Agency in Belfast
February 5, 2024
The British and Irish Prime Ministers, Rishi Sunak and Leo Varadkar, welcomed the restarting of institutions in Northern Ireland on Monday in Belfast, where they met the new head of government, Republican Michelle O'Neill.
Rishi Sunak welcomed “a historic day” for the country after the end of the political deadlock.
He welcomed “very constructive meetings” with the new leaders of the British province, where power is shared between unionists, committed to maintaining Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and republicans in favor of the unification of the island.
“It’s a very good thing that the institutions are operational again,” Leo Varadkar also reacted.
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Northern Irish institutions had been blocked for two years, due to the boycott of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), fiercely attached to membership of the British Crown. This party was protesting new post-Brexit trade rules which it said threatened the province's place within the United Kingdom.
But London and the DUP reached an agreement last week, paving the way for this resumption of work by the executive and legislative powers.
Michelle O'Neill, vice-president of Sinn Féin, 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 province British with a past scarred by three decades of bloody conflict.
Under co-governance resulting from the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, which ended the conflict which left 3,500 dead, Michelle O'Neill works with a DUP Deputy First Minister, Emma Little-Pengelly.
Michelle O’Neill on Sunday raised the possibility of a referendum on Irish unification within the next 10 years.
But Rishi Sunak called on Northern Irish officials to work on “the day-to-day matters that matter to citizens”, not constitutional change.
Leo Varadkar also said that the issue of reunification was “not for today”.
Local government is responsible for areas such as housing, health, employment, agriculture and the environment.
London will release an envelope of 3.3 billion pounds sterling (around CA$5.6 billion) to support public services, which recently experienced a strike of historic proportions.
The new executive demanded more, but Rishi Sunak described the funding as “generous and significant”.
During their meeting in Belfast, Rishi Sunak and Leo Varadkar stressed that a “stable, efficient and prosperous” Northern Ireland was extremely beneficial to bilateral relations, according to a Downing Street statement.
“It was a difficult time, but patience was the key to reaching an agreement,” according to this press release.