Northern Ireland has finally resolved a two-year impasse, paving the way to reignite a conflict that is over a hundred years old. On the first Saturday of February, Michelle O’Neill from the nationalist Sinn Féin party was named the new head of government in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin advocates for the reunification of Ireland and is a party that was once the political arm of the terrorist group IRA. Although Sinn Féin received the most votes in the May 2022 election, they failed to form a government due to opposition from unionist parties.
The legislation requires the Northern Ireland Executive to consist of members from nationalist and unionist parties. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) received the second most votes in the 2022 election but refused to form a government and boycotted the National Assembly for two years due to opposition to post-Brexit trade rules. However, after negotiations, an agreement was finally reached, leading to a transfer of 3 billion pounds from the British government to public services in Northern Ireland. With O’Neill leading the new government, a nationalist holds the top position in the Northern Irish Executive for the first time since Ireland’s partition in 1921.
A recent CNBC report brought attention to O’Neill’s family background, which reflects her connection with Sinn Féin and IRA history, with her father having been a member of IRA and later becoming a councilor for Sinn Féin. Her cousin, who was also an IRA member, was killed by Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) in 1991 during Operation Banner. As leader of Sinn Féin, O’Neill has stated that she will push for a referendum on Irish reunification within ten years as she believes it is best outcome for both sides economically, socially and politically as well as it would give them role on global stage. However, both Britain’s government and O’Neill’s unionist allies are displeased with this possibility as they believe that focus should be on day-to-day issues rather than constitutional issues at this time.