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Sinn Féin says united Ireland 'within touching distance'

Sinn Féin says united Ireland 'within touching distance' as the party claim the post of Northern Ireland first minister for the first time.

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has reconvened and appointed Michelle O’Neill as first minister in a historic moment for Sinn Féin and Irish nationalism.

Mary Lou McDonald said last week that the expected restoration of power sharing in the wake of a deal between the Democratic Unionist party and the UK government came amid a “historical turning of the wheel” that would unite the island.

“In historic terms, it is within touching distance and I think that is a very exciting thing and I hope people will find that a very welcoming conversation,” the Sinn Féin leader said.

O’Neill became the region’s putative first minister when Sinn Féin overtook the DUP as the biggest party in the 2022 assembly election. But a DUP boycott to protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements mothballed Stormont.

The Stormont assembly nominated the County Tyrone republican as the region’s first nationalist first minister – and the first non-unionist executive leader since the partition of Ireland in 1921.

O’Neill avoided triumphalism and made no explicit mention of Irish unity in an inaugural address that focused on reconciliation and bread-and-butter issues.

“Wherever we come from, whatever our aspirations, we can and must build our future together,” she said. “We must make power sharing work because collectively, we are charged with leading and delivering for all our people, for every community.”

The appointment of a republican first minister represented “a new dawn” unimaginable to previous generations that grew up with discrimination against Catholics, said O’Neill. “That state is now gone.”

O’Neill will jointly lead the executive with Emma Little-Pengelly, a Democratic Unionist who was nominated deputy first minister, a post with equal power but less prestige.

Read more at the Guardian

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