Northern Ireland has finally broken a two-year impasse, paving the way for a long-awaited peace process. On the first Saturday of February, Michelle O’Neill from the nationalist Sinn Féin party was named as the new head of government in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin is a party that advocates for Irish reunification and has its roots in terrorism through its connection to the IRA. Although Sinn Féin received the most votes in the May 2022 election, they were unable to form a government due to opposition from unionist parties.
To form a government, Northern Ireland’s executive must consist of members from both nationalist and unionist parties. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) received the second-most votes in the 2022 election but refused to participate in government formation and boycotted the National Assembly for two years. However, after months of negotiations, an agreement was finally reached, leading to a transfer of £3 billion from the British government to public services in Northern Ireland. With O’Neill at the helm of the new government, this marks the first time since Ireland’s partition in 1921 that a nationalist holds the top position in Northern Ireland’s Executive.
A recent CNBC report shed light on O’Neill’s family background and her connection to Sinn Féin and the IRA. Her father was a member of IRA and later became a councilor for Sinn Féin, while one of her cousins was killed by UK Special Air Service (SAS) during an attack on Belfast city hall in 1991. Despite this history, O’Neill has stated that she believes a referendum on Irish reunification should be held within ten years and expressed her passionate belief that it would be best for economics, society, politics and global community. However, both Britain and O’Neill’s unionist allies are not pleased with this possibility and believe that focus should be on day-to-day issues rather than constitutional issues.
Overall, this agreement marks a significant step towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland after years of political deadlock