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Foster, O'Neill appointed to lead revived Northern Ireland Assembly

Foster, O'Neill appointed to lead revived Northern Ireland Assembly
DUP leader Arlene Foster was appointed as Northern Ireland's first minister, and Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill was appointed deputy first minister at the reopening of the Northern Ireland Assembly Saturday. Photo by Kelvin Boyes/EPA-EFE

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Arlene Foster, leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, was appointed as Northern Ireland's first minister Saturday. Sinn Féin's Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill will serve as deputy first minister.

The appointments follow the reopening of the Northern Ireland assembly three years after it collapsed amid conflict between the two parties.

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Despite the title, both offices hold equal status and the appointment of the two leaders marks the return of a power sharing arrangement between the two parties, of which DUP is the largest in the province. Sinn Féin is the second largest.

"We have many differences. Michelle's narrative of the past 40 years could not be more different to mine," Foster said. "I'm not sure we will ever agree on much about the past, but we can agree there was too much suffering, and that we cannot allow society to drift backwards and allow division to grow."

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"After three years without functioning institutions with the five parties forming the new Executive, it is my hope that we do so united in our determination to deliver a stable power-sharing coalition that works on the basis of openness, transparency and accountability, and in good faith and with no surprises," O'Neill said.

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Foster had previously served as first minister but lost that role in 2017 amid the collapse of a previous power-sharing arrangement set up under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is said to have ended the 30 years of ethno-nationalist conflict known as The Troubles.

Prior to the collapse of the previous agreement the two parties opposed each other on Northern Ireland's position in the UK, but issues like the Irish language, same-sex marriage, abortion and the legacy of the Troubles.

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But it was a green energy scheme that led to the system's collapse.

Foster created a renewable heat incentive scheme that ran over budget, prompting Sinn Féin to demand she step aside as first minister. When she refused, the party pulled out of government.

The DUP -- considered right-wing and linked with Protestant and English identity was founded in 1971, a year after the left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin -- which was originally founded in 1905 -- was resurrected.

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Leaders of both the United Kingdom and Ireland spoke favorably about the return of power sharing to the province

"All parties and politicians in Northern Ireland are to be commended for their decision to put the people they represent first and make measured compromises to reach a deal," said Leo Varadkar, Ireland's taoiseach, or head of state.

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"The parties of Northern Ireland have shown great leadership in coming together to accept this fair and balanced deal in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland," said UK prime minister Boris Johnson.

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