Northern Ireland to elect first Irish nationalist First Minister

Northern Ireland to elect first Irish nationalist First Minister
Northern Ireland to elect first Irish nationalist First Minister

Hello and welcome to the details of Northern Ireland to elect first Irish nationalist First Minister and now with the details

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A night view of Stormont Parliament Buildings in Belfast, Northern Ireland, February 3, 2024 — Reuters pic

BELFAST, Feb 3 — Northern Ireland lawmakers were poised to elect an Irish nationalist as First Minister for the first time today, a historic milestone in a province established a century ago to ensure the dominance of pro-British unionists.

Michelle O’Neill’s ascent to the role is the latest sign of the increasing popularity across the island of her Sinn Fein party that now believes its ultimate dream of a united Ireland may be “within touching distance.”

Her elevation was made possible this week when arch rival, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ended a two-year boycott of the region’s power-sharing government that had threatened the political settlement underpinning a 1998 peace deal.

“Good Morning World,” Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald wrote on social media platform X, linking to an article from Irish national broadcaster RTE saying Northern Ireland was set to be the epicentre of a political earthquake.

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O’Neill and McDonald represent a shift to a new generation of Sinn Fein politicians not directly involved in the region’s decades-long bloody conflict between Irish nationalists seeking a united Ireland and pro-British unionists wanting to remain the United Kingdom.

As the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Sinn Fein was long shunned by the political establishment on both sides of the border. It is now also the most popular party in the Irish republic ahead of elections due next year.

The regional assembly will confirm O’Neill, 47, as First Minister after 1300 GMT. Technically the compulsory coalition gives equal power to the DUP’s deputy First Minister, but the First Minister title has always carried symbolic weight.

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While Sinn Fein has talked up the prospect of unity this week, all politicians in Northern Ireland are under intense pressure to deliver on bread and butter issues after the two-year hiatus put pressure on already stretched public services.

A referendum on unity is at the discretion of the British government. Opinion polls consistently show a clear majority in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.

The assembly will also hear calls for reform of the rules that allow the largest party on either side to pull down power-sharing for long periods, meaning it has been suspended almost as often as it has sat since being established under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Irish and British prime ministers have said they are open to considering reforming the political architecture once the devolved government is up and running.

“They’re fed up,” 40-year-old lawyer Tara Walsh said of the general mood on the streets of Belfast.

“People want change.” — Reuters

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