Stormont ministers appointed as powersharing returns to NI

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Ministers have been appointed to Stormont’s coalition executive after powersharing returned to Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Arlene Foster resumed the first minister role she lost when the last administration collapsed in 2017, while Sinn Fein’s Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill has become deputy first minister.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who are expected to visit the region next week, hailed the local politicians for a backing a compromise deal to revive the institutions.

The Assembly sat once again on Saturday afternoon after the landmark agreement to restore devolution. MLAs were in the chamber for around two hours to conduct the business of electing and appointing speakers and ministers.

Ms Foster said she was “deeply humbled” to be reappointed first minister.

The DUP leader said there was plenty of blame to go around for the three-year powersharing 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 struck a conciliatory tone and stressed the need to work together going forward.

“We have many differences – Michelle’s narrative of the past 40 years could not be more different to mine,” she said.

“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.”

Ulster powersharing
Arlene Foster of the DUP leads her party into the chamber at Parliament Buildings (Michael Cooper/PA)

Ms O’Neill said it was a “defining moment” for the region. She said she was honoured to follow in the footsteps of the late Martin McGuinness and become deputy first minister.

“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.

Ulster powersharing
Sinn Fein returns to devolved government (Michael Cooper/PA)

“As we begin a new decade, we can now look forward to a brighter future for all in Northern Ireland with an Executive that can transform public services and improve people’s lives,” said Mr Johnson.

Mr Varadkar hailed the politicians for backing the deal.

“I look forward to working with representatives in Northern Ireland as they begin working together again on behalf of all people in Northern Ireland,” said the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar interview
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson are expected to visit Northern Ireland next week (Niall Carson/PA)

The current US administration also welcomed the deal, with UK ambassador Robert Wood Johnson insisting the US would remain a “friend and partner” of the people of Northern Ireland.

The DUP’s Diane Dodds is Economy minister, Peter Weir is Education minister and Edwin Poots is Agriculture minister.

Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy is the new Finance minister, while party colleague Deirdre Hargey is the minister at the Department of Communities.

The SDLP’s Nichola Mallon is Infrastructure minister while former Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann is the new Health minister.

Alliance did not have the electoral strength to take up a ministry by right but the DUP and Sinn Fein invited the cross-community party to fill the justice ministry – which is allocated by a different process to the other portfolios.

The DUP’s Gordon Lyons and Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney were selected as junior ministers in Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill’s Executive Office.

Sinn Fein’s Alex Maskey had been elected as the new speaker of the Assembly, while the DUP’s Christopher Stalford, Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs and the SDLP’s Patsy McGlone are deputy speakers.

The inclusion of all five of the main parties in the executive is a significant development. The last executive prior to Stormont’s collapse in 2017 did not include the three smaller parties.

Powersharing returned after the DUP and Sinn Fein, the region’s two largest parties, agreed to re-enter a mandatory coalition ministerial executive.

They 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.

ULSTER Politics
(PA Graphics)

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 Fein-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.

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