A Letter From Ireland
NOTE: This letter was first published on Friday, February, 2. Michelle O’Neill was elected First Minister on Saturday, February 3rd. You can read her full address to the Assembly here.
It is with some trepidation that I write this, but it looks like a deal to re-establish Government in the North of Ireland has been reached.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Democratic Unionist Party leader, Jeffrey Donaldson told the media that his party would lift their two-year blockade of government if the British implemented their agreement with his party.
The announcement followed a fractious DUP party meeting from which the presentations were leaked live on social media.
The following day all parties reconvened in Stormont to look at the process of re-establishing government.
On Wednesday the British Government made public the details of the deal and on Thursday legislate for its commitments. They also brought forward a paper promoting the continued partition of Ireland. This undermines the Good Friday Agreement obligation on the British Government to be “rigorously impartial” . It reiterated the principle of consent and the right of the people to determine their constitutional future through referendums. The battle to hold the British Government to their commitments and agreements continues.
The way should now be cleared for the Assembly to be reconvened on Saturday, February 3rd to elect a new Speaker and Ministers. The meeting will also confirm Sinn Féin Party Vice President Michelle O’Neill as First Minister. A DUP nominee will become Deputy First Minister.
Next week should see the return of the business of the government and restart the operation of the North South Ministerial Council.
The DUP’s choice to block the government and the operation of the North-South Ministerial Council eroded confidence in the political process, exacted a real cost and an opportunity cost to the economy, and added hardship to public services and workers.
It will take time to rebuild confidence and to make up for lost ground. While there remains a section of unionism opposed to power sharing, equality, and the Good Friday Agreement, they cannot be allowed to derail the operation of the institutions.
If everything goes according to plan, the new Assembly and Executive will be a new start, unlike its predecessors. Unionism no longer has an overall majority in the Assembly and only enjoys a one-seat advantage over those in favor of Irish Unity.
The Executive branch will likely be three Sinn Fein ministers, three Unionist ministers, and two Alliance Ministers, although this may vary slightly.
The election of Michelle O’Neill as the First Minister embodies the changes in Northern society. Ireland was partitioned on the basis of a sectarian gerrymander to ensure a permanent Unionist majority. That majority is now gone. Michelle O’Neill will be the first nonunionist to hold the highest office. Our party – Sinn Féin – has the objective of ending partition and uniting Ireland.
While looking to the future and planning for unity Michelle has vowed from day one to be a First Minister for all. Working for the common good of all the people who share our Island. A beacon of what a new and united Ireland can and must be: a home to all.
This weekend a Rubicon will be crossed. Another step on the path to building a new and united Ireland. Those opposed will no doubt continue to try to stall and frustrate progress, but they can never win.
If things move as planned then we will all have a great weekend.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.