Friday, February 23, 2024

This Image Marks A Major New Era For Northern Ireland

Michelle O’Neill has just become Northern Ireland’s first minister – making her the first ever leader of a nationalist party to take on the key role.

She was pictured officially taking up the role on Saturday when the Northern Ireland Assembly formally returned.

It also comes after almost two years of deadlock in the Northern Ireland Assembly – also known as Stormont – which stopped the devolved government from sitting at all.

Although the Good Friday Agreement means both nationalists and unionists have to share power for Stormont to operate, politicians from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) held the position of first minister for more than 100 years – until now.

Elections held in May 2022 saw nationalist party Sinn Fein secure the largest number of seats, meaning its own politicians could take the top job in the Executive for the first time ever.

The DUP, as the second largest group in the Assembly, are therefore entitled to install a politician in the deputy first minister role.

Technically, Sinn Fein should have been leading Stormont since the last election, but DUP have been boycotting the government altogether.

In February 2022, the DUP withdrew from the Northern Ireland Assembly in an effort to make Downing Street act on their concerns that the post-Brexit deal was making the region too separate from the rest of the UK.

Trade going from Britain to Northern Ireland was subject to intense checks, unlike trade going between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

This has been a major sticking point ever since Brexit negotiations began after the EU referendum.

The DUP only agreed to a deal with Westminster to resolve the deadlock on Tuesday, and the legislation was fast-tracked through the UK parliament in a bid to get Stormont restored.

According to DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the new deal means there will “no longer be physical checks or identity checks save where, as normal anywhere in the UK, there are suspicions of smuggling of criminal activity”.

O’Neill celebrated the new deal and the restoration of Stormont, describing Tuesday was a “day of optimism”.

She also told the Washington Post she would be a “minister for all” during her remaining term.

The next Stormont election will be held no later than May 2027.

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