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Historic election: Left-wing nationalist becomes Northern Ireland's new leader

Historic election: Left-wing nationalist becomes Northern Ireland's new leader

Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill was elected as Northern Ireland's first female minister on Saturday. She became the first national leader in the country's history.

Sinn Fein calls for a united Ireland, i.e. for Northern Ireland to become part of an independent Republic of Ireland. So the news about O'Neill has caused a political uproar – and now there are growing concerns about growing unrest in an already polarized Northern Ireland.

O'Neill wants to become a 'minister for all'

However, Michelle O'Neill was careful not to mention the ideas of a united Ireland in her first statement.

– No matter where we come from and what our ambitions are, we must build our future together, she said after the appointment on Saturday.

She also stressed that she wants to be a “prime minister for everyone”, including those who want to remain part of the UK. The party also did not push for a united Ireland in the election campaign.

At the same time, many observers attest to the changing political landscape in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said earlier this week that Irish unification was now “within reach”.

Two leaders in Parliament

O'Neill will co-lead Parliament with Emma Little Pengelly of the pro-London Democratic Unionist Party. Both are equally powerful, but O'Neill's role is described as more important in purely symbolic terms.

“It's a good day for democracy,” O'Neill said, referring to the 2022 election, when Sinn Féin won the largest number of seats in Parliament for the first time.

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It has been closed for two years

The country's parliament has been without a functioning parliament since February 3, 2022. This came after former Prime Minister Paul Givan of the Democratic Unionist Party resigned in protest against the Brexit agreement and the sensitive issue of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland.

When a new agreement was announced this week, it was once again possible for Parliament to open its doors.