23/09/2020

Stormont’s first and deputy first ministers have been appointed after power-sharing returned to Northern Ireland.

Stormont’s first and deputy first ministers have been appointed after power-sharing returned to Northern Ireland.
DUP leader Arlene Foster resumes the first minister role she lost when the last coalition executive collapsed in 2017 while Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill has become deputy first minister.
Despite the titles, both offices hold equal status in the ministerial executive.
Ms Foster said she was “deeply humbled”. The DUP leader said there was plenty of blame to go around for the three-year power-sharing impasse but she insisted it was now time to look to the future.
Significantly, given one of the key disputes at the heart of political crisis, Ms Foster made reference to an Irish language phrase in a speech that stressed the need to work together going forward.
“When I visited Our Lady’s Grammar in Newry, the pupils gave me a lovely picture as a gift,” she said.
“It has hung in my office upstairs ever since, just above my shoulder. In Irish, it states: ‘Together, we are strong’.
“We have many differences. Michelle’s narrative of the past 40 years could not be more different to mine.
“I’m not sure we will ever agree on much about the past, but we can agree there was too much suffering, and that we cannot allow society to drift backwards and allow division to grow.
“Northern Ireland is succeeding in many ways. It’s time for Stormont to move forward and show that ‘together we are stronger’ for the benefit of everyone.”
Ms O’Neill said it was a “defining moment” for the region.
“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.
“I am honoured to follow in the footsteps of my dear friend and comrade Martin Mc Guinness taking up the position of deputy first minister, and as joint head of Government I too pledge to follow the example of Martin by actively promoting reconciliation, and building bridges we can all cross to end sectarianism and bigotry.”
Earlier, Sinn Féin’s Alex Maskey was elected as the new speaker of the Assembly.
His election was somewhat of a surprise as the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone was expected to take up the role.
Three deputy speakers were also elected. They are the DUP’s Christopher Stalford, UUP MLA Roy Beggs and SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone. 
Alex Maskey
Ministerial appointments were also confirmed today. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long will take up the role of Justice Minister, Diane Dodds of the DUP becomes Minister at the Department for the Economy, while Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy is the new Finance Minister.
The DUP’s Peter Weir is Minister at the Department of Education, the SDLP’s Nichola Mallon is the new Minister for the Department for Infrastructure and Deirdre Hargey of Sinn Féin becomes Minister for the Department of Communities.
Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann is the new Health Minister with Edwin Poots of the DUP becoming Agriculture Minister.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith wished the parties good luck ahead of today’s sitting of the Stormont Assembly on Twitter.
To @DUPleader , @moneillsf, @columeastwood , @naomi_long , @SteveAikenUUP. Well done & good luck! pic.twitter.com/CfKPlUEIVu
— Julian Smith MP (@JulianSmithUK) January 11, 2020
Also on Twitter, former US president Bill Clinton welcomed the return of the Assembly
I care deeply about the people of Northern Ireland, and I’m thankful their leaders are coming together in the spirit of the Good Friday Accords to stand-up the Executive and restore the government functions that people of all communities require.
— Bill Clinton (@BillClinton) January 11, 2020
All five of the main parties will form the region’s new power-sharing executive.
Moments before business resumed at Parliament Buildings today, the Ulster Unionist Party confirmed it will take up a ministry in the coalition executive while the Alliance Party said it had accepted an invite to fill the justice ministry.
They will join the DUP, Sinn Féin and SDLP in the administration. It marks a significant development as the last executive prior to Stormont’s collapse in 2017 did not include the three smaller parties.
Power-sharing returned after the DUP and Sinn Féin agreed to re-enter a mandatory coalition ministerial executive.
They have both signed up to a deal, tabled by the UK and Irish governments, that offered compromise resolutions to a range of long-standing disputes on issues such as the Irish language.
The endorsement of the two parties was essential for the formation of an executive, as peace process structures mean an administration can only function if it includes the largest unionist party and largest nationalist party.
The “New Decade, New Approach” deal will also be accompanied by what the UK Government has promised will be a major investment package.
Government funding is set to help tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.
One of the most high-profile of those is an industrial dispute in the health service that has seen nurses take strike action on three occasions in the last month.
Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.
The last DUP/Sinn Féin-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.
That row subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.