Feb. 7: The death of former taoiseach John Burton, King Charles’ cancer, other news in Ireland and the rest of world have pushed the Northern Ireland Assembly off the home pages of Irish media. This post is now closed.
Feb. 4: Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have arrived in Belfast for bilateral talks impacting Northern Ireland and other issues between the two island neighbors. … See “How the world reported Michelle O’Neill’s election as First Minister of Northern Ireland.”
Feb. 3: Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill has been named first minister of the restored Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year boycott by unionists. O’Neill, 47, the nationalist party’s vice president, emphasized that she would be “a first minister for all” — including unionists and republicans, Protestants and Catholics, those who want a “United Ireland” and those who want to remain “British Forever” (alongside a growing number in the middle ground), The Washington Post reported. “To all of you who are British and unionist: Your national identity, culture and traditions are important to me. None of us are being asked or expected to surrender who we are. Our allegiances are equally legitimate. Let’s walk this two-way street and meet one another halfway.”
O’Neill has waited for the job since Sinn Féin topped May 2022 elections in the North, three months after the DUP walked out of the Assembly. The DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly, 44, will serve as deputy first minister, giving the power-sharing government its first all-female co-executives. Though technically equals, this is the first time a nationalist has been first minister.
- Read U.S. President Joe Biden’s statement.
The growth of nationalist political representation is unsurprising, The New York Times noted:
Demographics have shifted significantly in Northern Ireland, with the Protestant majority’s slow erosion there first attributed to the Catholic Church’s opposition to birth control and then to economic factors like the decline in industrial jobs, which were held predominantly by Protestants.
Catholics outnumbered Protestants in Northern Ireland for the first time in 2022, according to census figures. And Northern Ireland is not the binary society it once was. Decades of peace drew newcomers in, and like much of the world, the island has grown increasingly secular. The labels of Catholic and Protestant have been left as a clumsy shorthand for the cultural and political divide.A large percentage of the population identifies as neither religion. And when it comes to political attitudes, the largest single group — 38 percent — regards itself as neither nationalist nor unionist, according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey.
Feb. 1: Britain’s parliament approved revamped rules governing Northern Ireland trade that were negotiated between the government and the DUP. This prompted the DUP to formally requested the reconstitution of the power-sharing government. Opposition to the trade deal has been minimal, Reuters reported.
Jan. 30: The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has agreed to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly after a two-year walkout arising from its disagreements about Brexit trade protocols. The decision by the North’s main unionist party means nationalist Sinn Féin could lead the Assembly for the first time in the nearly 26 years since the Good Friday Agreement.
“This is obviously good news, but this is only one step and there are about 10 things that could still go wrong,” an unnamed U.K. official told reporter Shawn Pogatchnik at Politico.eu. Or, as former Ulster Unionist Party communications director Alex Kane wrote in The Irish Times: “I’ve seen far too many ‘breakthroughs’ come and go in Northern Ireland to abandon my usual pessimism just yet.”
This story is developing. Today (Feb. 1) the U.K. Parliament is set to vote on special legislation designed to allay DUP concerns about how Northern Ireland is treated under Brexit. Then there is the matter of making Sinn Féin‘s Michelle O’Neill the Assembly’s first minister, a position the party earned by topping May 2022 elections in the six counties.
I’ll curate this post over the next week or so. Email subscribers are reminded to visit the website directly for the latest updates. MH