Sinn Féin Leader Michelle O’Neill Is the First Minister of the North of Ireland

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Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill speaks at a party conference on Irish unity in Dublin. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

On February 3, in a major development in the North of Ireland, Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill was named as the First Minister as part of a power-sharing agreement that ended a two-year-long political impasse.

The political legislature, the Stormont, was in limbo for over two years due to a Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) boycott over a disagreement with the UK government’s post-Brexit trade agreement, the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP). Paul Givan, the then-first minister from the DUP, resigned on February 3, 2022, in protest against the NIP.

In the elections for the Stormont held shortly after, on May 5, 2022, Sinn Féin emerged as the largest party with 27 seats, ahead of the DUP, which slid to second place with 25 seats.

Since then, the DUP, in a bid to save face, has decided not to participate in talks on government formation until the Tory government passed the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill in the UK Parliament. The pro-UK, loyalist DUP desperately pressed the Conservative national government to make legal interventions to bypass parts of the NIP, which came into effect as part of Brexit

Emma Little-Pengelly of the DUP was nominated as deputy first minister, and former DUP leader Edwin Poots was elected as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Matthew O’Toole from the Social Democratic and Labor Party was confirmed as leader of the official opposition.

O’Neill is the first Irish nationalist to lead the United Kingdom-controlled territory since it was partitioned from Ireland in 1921.

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