Power-sharing to return to Northern Ireland with first nationalist first minister

A power-sharing government will return to Northern Ireland today, as Michelle O’Neill makes history as the first nationalist first minister.

Politicians will gather at Stormont later for a sitting at which a series of ministers will be appointed to the executive, bringing an end to a two-year political quagmire.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the country’s largest unionist party, had signalled it was ready for the recall of the political institutions after forging a deal with the UK government on post-Brexit trade, which party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson says has effectively removed the so-called Irish Sea trading border.

Two pieces of legislation contained in the agreement were fast-tracked through the House of Commons on Thursday, paving the way for the Assembly at Stormont to return.

MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) will elect a new Stormont speaker, followed by nominations for the offices of first and deputy first minister.

Sinn Fein’s Ms O’Neill will take the first minister role, but the DUP has not yet said who it will nominate for deputy first minister. Under the Good Friday Agreement, the deputy has an authority equal to that of the first minister.

The power-sharing arrangement brought in by the agreement played a key role in ending the sectarian violence of the Troubles.

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A series of ministerial positions across Stormont will also be filled.

After a meeting of party leaders at Stormont Castle on Friday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey said: “It is important when the executive meets that we have a real sense of what those priorities are for everyone in Northern Ireland.

“We are looking forward to the Assembly meeting, going through the formalities, getting devolution restored.”

Read more:
Why Northern Ireland’s new first minister is hugely symbolic

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Stormont deal divides MPs

Budget crisis is key priority

A key priority will be dealing with the budget crisis affecting public services in Northern Ireland.

The UK government has offered a £3.3bn package to secure Northern Ireland’s finances when the Assembly returns, including £600m to settle public sector pay claims.

But Sir Jeffrey indicated the parties would work together to secure more money from the Treasury, adding: “The finance piece is unfinished business which we intend to finish.”

Ms O’Neill’s selection as first minister, made possible after she led Sinn Feinn to victory in the 2022 Assembly elections, will mark the first time the post has been held by a nationalist committed to seeing Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland united as one country.


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