What do you know about the return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland?
After two years of political stalemate, Northern Ireland is finally set to have a functioning government again. Elected representatives are due to meet at the assembly building on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday to revive the power-sharing government that governs the region.
There will be one significant change since the last time they met: Sinn Féin politician Michelle O’Neill will take over as First Minister for the first time, a significant moment in Northern Ireland’s history.
Here’s what you should know.
What is Sinn Fein, and why is it important for the party to take on the role of ‘Prime Minister’?
Sinn Féin was once seen as Political wing The Irish Republican Army, or IRA, was a paramilitary group that waged a bloody campaign against British forces deployed in Northern Ireland. But in the 1980s and 1990s, Sinn Fein leaders increasingly pursued a political path rather than the armed struggle favored by IRA hardliners, and in 1998 the party signed up to the democratic process set out in the Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought peace after decades of violence. Known as disturbances.
Since then, the First Minister of Northern Ireland has always been a unionist, meaning that he represents a political party committed to keeping the territory within the United Kingdom.
In contrast, Sinn Féin believes that the island of Ireland should be a united, sovereign state, abolishing the partition that divided the region in 1921.
Ms O’Neill’s elevation to Northern Ireland’s first minister on Saturday will be the first time a politician who wants to take the region out of the UK has held the role.
However, this did not mean that a united Ireland was imminent. Although Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said this week her party’s goal was now “within reach”, under the new law. Terms of the Good Friday AgreementVoters must approve unification through a referendum, and current opinion polls indicate that a majority will not vote in favor of unification.
What is power sharing and how does it work?
Under the peace agreement signed in 1998, Northern Ireland is governed by politicians from the largest parties from both sides of the sectarian divide. The party with the most votes in the Northern Irish elections nominates the First Minister, while the second party nominates the Deputy First Minister.
Stormont, the Northern Ireland assembly in Belfast, can only function with the support of Sinn Féin, which represents republican voters, the majority of whom are Catholic, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which represents unionist voters, who are mostly Protestants. So, when the DUP walked out in 2022 in protest against post-Brexit trade arrangements, power-sharing collapsed.
after This week’s deal With the British government, the Democratic Unionist Party agreed to end its boycott of the power-sharing assembly. Technically, the positions of First Minister and Deputy First Minister are of equal weight, and one minister cannot act without the other. But there’s no getting around the symbolism of the title Ms. O’Neill will take — and the fact that it has the word “first” in it — as she enters the history books.
Who is Michelle O’Neill?
Born in January 1977, she grew up in a family of committed Irish Republicans. Her father, Brendan Dorries, was a former IRA prisoner who later became a Sinn Féin representative in a municipality. Ms O’Neill gave birth to a daughter when she was 16, and said she believed being a young mother had made her stronger.
“I know what it is to struggle, I know what it is to go to school and have a child at home,” she told Sky News.
She joined Sinn Fein after the Good Friday Agreement, aged 21, and was elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2007. She became Vice-President of Sinn Fein in 2018. In January 2020, she was appointed Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. A job she held – with brief interruptions – until February 2022, when power-sharing collapsed.
In the Assembly elections later that year, Sinn Féin won the largest number of seats, putting Ms O’Neill in line for the top job. An astute politician, Ms O’Neill has helped modernize and rebrand Sinn Fein and has shown pragmatism as she prepares for her new role. Last year, she attended the coronation of King Charles III, a remarkable gesture by an Irish Republican.
what happened after that?
Politicians in Northern Ireland have an inbox full of challenges and backlogs to deal with. For two years, civil servants maintained core government functions, but major decisions were delayed. Public services have deteriorated, and Northern Ireland’s healthcare system has the longest waiting lists for procedures in the UK. The lack of government meant that the pay increases afforded to public servants in the rest of the country were denied those in Northern Ireland. Last month witnessed a strike and the largest demonstrations in recent memory.
The good news is that the British government, as part of the power-sharing restoration deal, has provided £3.3 billion to spend in Northern Ireland. However, some are concerned about the stability of power-sharing.
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Geoffrey Donaldson, faced fierce internal opposition when he decided to return to Stormont. The divisions within his party were so deep that during a crucial five-hour internal meeting on Monday, details of the discussion were leaked and posted live on social media. All it would take is another DUP boycott for power-sharing to collapse again.