Northern Ireland names first Sinn Fein leader
After two long years, Northern Ireland once again has a functioning government – and in a historic move, it has named Michelle O’Neill as the first-ever First Minister from Sinn Fein. The party, which served as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, won a majority of seats in the 2022 election.
The country’s unique “Good Friday Agreement” necessitates that unionists and nationalists share power, but that cooperation collapsed in 2022 over a dispute about post-Brexit trade rules with the EU. O’Neill will share power with Deputy Minister Emma Little-Pengelly, from the Democratic Unionist Party, which had dominated Northern Ireland’s politics for decades.
While the 47-year-old O’Neill favors the unity of the two Irelands, she downplayed that in the days leading to her appointment and pledged to continue “the work of reconciliation between all our people.” O’Neill’s father was imprisoned for IRA membership before transitioning to politics, but O’Neill herself is not an anti-monarchist, notably attending both Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral and the coronation of King Charles III last year.
Her government also has more pressing concerns: health care and cost-of-living issues. Nevertheless, O’Neill’s appointment gives hope to those who would like to one day see the two Irelands united.