First ever nationalist First Minister may be appointed on Saturday after Tory/DUP deal legislation passes

The first ever republican First Minister looks set to be appointed on Saturday after DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson asked the Stormont Speaker to reconvene the Assembly.
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Foyle MLAs Ciara Ferguson and Pádraig Delargy joined First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at the Assembly on Thursday in expectation Stormont will be recalled and an Executive appointed.

Ms. McDonald said it was a ‘historic time for the island’.

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood also acknowledged history would be made, with a nationalist First Minister faced by a nationalist Leader of the Opposition, Matthew O’Toole.

Foyle MLAs Ciara Ferguson and Pádraig Delargy with First Minister designate Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at Stormont on Thursday.Foyle MLAs Ciara Ferguson and Pádraig Delargy with First Minister designate Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at Stormont on Thursday.
Foyle MLAs Ciara Ferguson and Pádraig Delargy with First Minister designate Michelle O'Neill and Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald at Stormont on Thursday.
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“I think we are about to see something very significant. We will have the first ever nationalist First Minister, the first ever nationalist Leader of the Opposition,” he said.

The likely resurrection of Stormont and appointment of Ms. O’Neill as First Minister has been made possible by the British Government’s bi-lateral unionist ‘Safeguarding the Union’ deal with the DUP.

Legislation underpinning the agreement’s ‘guarantee’ of the North’s status in the UK and replacement of the ‘green lane’ for goods in the Windsor Framework with a ‘UK internal market system’ was passed in the British House of Commons on Thursday afternoon.

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Notwithstanding its facilitation of a DUP return to power-sharing, ‘Safeguarding the Union’ was heavily criticised by Mr. Eastwood on Thursday.

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He accused the British Government of abandoning a former position of ‘rigorous impartiality’ and undermining the Good Friday Agreement.

The SDLP leader alluded to the policy paper’s unionist rhetoric.

He asked if the British Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris was moving away from a strategic position on Ireland once outlined by an influential predecessor.

“Peter Brooke once said that Britain had no selfish or strategic interest in NI. That was later repeated in the Downing Street Declaration.

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"Reading the Command Paper it would seem to me that this government has moved from that position and I think it undermines the GFA. It seems like they have moved away from the principle of rigorous impartiality.

"Does the Secretary of State agree with Peter Brooke's assertion and the Downing Street Declaration or is he moving to a different place?” he asked.

Mr. Heaton-Harris replied: “I disagree with what the Honourable Gentleman said at the very end of his intervention and I completely agree with what Peter Brooke said at the time and our commitment to the Belfast/GFA in all of its different ways and all of its facets.”

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Mr. Eastwood persisted with his criticism of the Tory/DUP deal.

"You would maybe think there was only the DUP in NI - there were no other people with any other constitutional preferences. Of course, there are many people in the North of Ireland who want to see a new Ireland as soon as possible so despite what may be in the Command Paper and what he has said and others have said, does he agree that the GFA is sacrosanct and it is absolutely clear that if people vote for a constitutional change then that's what happens?” he asked.

Later on Thursday, after legislation related to ‘Safeguarding the Union’s’ guarantees was passed, Mr. Donaldson said: "I expect the Assembly will meet on Saturday following the Speaker consulting and making all necessary arrangements.”