Looking forward to the next 25 years
Looking forward to the next 25 years


By Michelle O’Neill, vice-president of Sinn Féin

I was 20 years old and a young mother when the Belfast Agreement was signed. I remember vividly the sense of hope and optimism that a brighter, more peaceful future was on the horizon.

And from that point I got in behind the politics to help build the peace and as a representative of the Belfast Agreement generation, I have been working towards that ever since.

It is of course a political accommodation. Through the establishment of the political institutions, the powersharing Assembly and Executive, and the north-south and east-west bodies, it has helped the process of bringing people together and provided a peaceful and democratic way forward.

This was complemented by the demilitarisation of British Army security apparatus and checkpoints and free movement across the whole island within the European Union. This was transformational.

The outworking of Brexit has damaged our powersharing institutions and created huge political setbacks for our society

Fast forward to 2016 and Brexit was forced upon the people of the North by a Tory government without the consent of the majority who voted to remain in the EU.

The outworking of Brexit has damaged our powersharing institutions and created huge political setbacks for our society.

The hard Brexit pursued by the Tories and championed by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ruptured British-Irish relations.

This resulted in London and Dublin losing their ability to act jointly and with the “rigorous impartiality” required of the British government under the Belfast Agreement. The London government under Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss attempted to undermine the protocol, put in place to prevent a hard border, to protect the all-island economy and secure the Belfast Agreement.

Given the key role played by the United States in achieving the Belfast Agreement, the administration of president Joe Biden and wider Irish America has been adamant that despite Brexit, the Belfast Agreement and peace in Ireland must be preserved. That was the clear and unambiguous message from the US president last week on his visit to Ireland.

It is clear that British prime minister Rishi Sunak is desperate to undo the damage his government has done to the British economy.

The recent deal struck between the EU and British government is a positive development and will help give certainty to local businesses and the economy. There will be no hard border on the island of Ireland, the Belfast Agreement is protected, and the whole island has access to the EU single market.

The negotiations are over and the reality is that the only decision facing the DUP is whether they are prepared to accept the democratic outcome of the Assembly election last May and share power with the other parties on the basis of equality.

I intend to be a First Minister for All, irrespective of what tradition you come from, or where your allegiances lie

People rightly want to see parties working together around the Executive table, delivering for all, focusing on their future, grasping our economic opportunities and make a difference to the lives of everyone. Sinn Féin is committed to that.

As First Minister Elect, I serve all sections of society.

I intend to be a First Minister for All, irrespective of what tradition you come from, or where your allegiances lie. I will work to reach out to all communities with an open hand and I hope they will respond with an open mind.

As we have seen already with the visit of president Biden, there is enormous goodwill and support internationally.

This will be evident again over the coming week. We must tap into the economic potential that this international support offers us alongside the unique advantages of the protocol.

A quarter century on from the Belfast Agreement, we look to the next 25 years, committed to work together to build a better, more prosperous future for all the people of this island. That is certainly my focus and my commitment.

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