Reunification Debate Reignited as Former Political Arm of IRA Assumes Power

Uniting Ireland Through New Government: Michelle O’Neill’s Historic Win and Controversial Referendum Possibilities

On February 3rd, Northern Ireland finally put an end to a two-year impasse and paved the way for a new government. The first Saturday of the month saw Michelle O’Neill become the new head of government in Northern Ireland. Her party, Sinn Féin, which was once the political arm of the IRA, received the most votes in the election for the Northern Irish National Assembly in May 2022. However, they failed to form a government due to disagreements with unionist parties over post-Brexit trade rules.

The new legislation establishes that the Northern Ireland Executive must be made up of members from nationalist and unionist parties. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which received the second most votes in 2022, refused to form a government and boycotted the National Assembly for two years because it was contrary to these rules.

Finally, an agreement was reached that includes a transfer of £3 billion from the British government to public services in Northern Ireland. With O’Neill at the helm of this new government, for the first time since Ireland was partitioned in 1921, a nationalist holds the top position in the Northern Irish Executive. A recent CNBC report highlighted how O’Neill’s family background reflects these blurred lines between Sinn Féin and IRA – her father was arrested while he was part of IRA and later became a councilor for Sinn Fein while her cousin was killed by Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) in 1991.

O’Neill now seeks reunification of Ireland without resorting to violence. “There are so many things that are changing,” she said in an interview with Sky News. “All old norms, nature of this state; fact that nationalist republican should never be prime minister – all these indicate change.” Mary Lou McDonald, President of Sinn Fein added that a referendum on island’s reunification should be held within ten years during their press conference with international media last Thursday.

The possibility of such a referendum does not sit well with both British Government and unionists allies who believe people want their focus on resolving daily issues rather than being preoccupied with constitutional ones as per British Prime Minister who emphasized it isn’t about promoting constitutional change but implementing day-to-day things important to people while DUP expressed similar sentiments stating population wants their government to prioritize resolving daily issues over constitutional questions.

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