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Updated February 4th, 2024 at 15:25 IST

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill Makes History as First Nationalist First Minister in Northern Ireland

This marks a significant departure from tradition, as O'Neill becomes the first non-unionist executive leader since the partition of Ireland in 1921.

Reported by: Sagar Kar
Michelle O'Neill
Michelle O'Neill | Image:AP
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In a historic moment for Sinn Féin and Irish nationalism, Northern Ireland's devolved government reconvened, appointing Michelle O'Neill as the region's first nationalist first minister. This marks a significant departure from tradition, as O'Neill becomes the first non-unionist executive leader since the partition of Ireland in 1921.

The Stormont assembly, representing a diverse political landscape, nominated O'Neill, a republican, to the influential position. According to a report from The Guardian, in her inaugural address, O'Neill struck a tone of reconciliation and emphasized the importance of addressing everyday issues for the people of Northern Ireland.

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Here is what you need to know

"Wherever we come from, whatever our aspirations, we can and must build our future together," O'Neill stated. Her focus remained on making power-sharing effective, stressing the collective responsibility to lead and deliver for all communities.

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“A new dawn,” says O'Neill

Her appointment as the first republican first minister represents a "new dawn," according to O'Neill, unimaginable to previous generations that faced discrimination against Catholics. She acknowledged the transformation, declaring, "That state is now gone."

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Nationalists will have to share power with Unionists 

O'Neill will share leadership responsibilities with Emma Little-Pengelly, a Democratic Unionist nominated as deputy first minister. The devolved government's reconvening follows the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) boycott of Stormont in  February 2022, protesting post-Brexit trading arrangements. The DUP ended the boycott after securing concessions from the UK government regarding the Irish Sea border. 

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It became clear that a member of the Irish nationalist Sinn Féin will become First Minister, back in May 2022, when Sinn Féin, for the first time, secured more seats than the DUP, during the assembly elections, and became the biggest party. 

This development signals a unique moment in Northern Ireland's political landscape, reflecting changing dynamics and a commitment to collaborative governance, transcending historical divides.

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Published February 4th, 2024 at 15:25 IST

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