The DUP’s Arlene Foster has returned as Stormont First Minister and Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has taken up the post of deputy First Minister as the main political parties moved quickly today to restore the Six County institutions and take up Ministerial appointments.
It came after all five main political parties backed a draft agreement, “New Decade, New Approach” dealing with issues such as new measures to support the Irish language and limiting the unionist veto, which was published yesterday by the Dublin and London governments.
The Six County economy has also been boosted by a further injection of funds by the British government, who unveiled what they said was a major investment package.
It was a triumphant return to power for DUP leader Arlene Foster, whose political career had appeared to be over following the RHI scandal over a corrupt ‘free money’ green energy scheme. She vowed to “get Northern Ireland moving” and said she was “humbled” to return as First Minister.
Despite concerns within the party that Stormont upholds partition of the island, the Sinn Féin leadership emphasised that it is still committed to Irish unity.
Ms O’Neill said she was “honoured” to follow in the footsteps of the late deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who walked out of the Executive in January 2017 in protest at DUP corruption and vowing that there would be “no return to the status quo”.
Ms O’Neill today sought to move beyond that dispute, which shuttered Stormont for three years.
“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,” she said.
In the first business of the day, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey was elected as the new speaker of the Assembly with the support of the DUP.
The following was the distribution of Ministerial posts: Justice for Alliance’s Naomi Long; Health for UUP’s Robin Swann; Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs for DUP’s Edwin Poots; Education for DUP’s Diana Dodds; Infrastructure for SDLP’s Nichola Mallon; Finance for Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy; Economy for DUP’s Peter Weir; and Communities for Sinn Féin’s Deirde Hargey.
In a tweet to the leaders of the five main parties, British Direct Ruler Julian Smith wrote, “Well done and good luck!”
British prime minister Boris Johnson described the day as “momentous”. He said in a statement: “As we begin a new decade, we can now look forward to a brighter future for all in Northern Ireland, with an Executive that can transform public services and improve people’s lives.”
The 26 County Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar also tweeted: “This is a historic day for Northern Ireland.”