Varadkar and Sunak at Stormont for funding talks after historic appointment of Michelle O’Neill as first republican First Minister

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak have been at Stormont for talks after the historic appointment of Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill as the first ever republican First Minister on Saturday.
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Top of the agenda have been urgent discussions with the British Prime Minister on long-term funding for public services with local politicians arguing the North’s needs are not being met through the Block Grant and Barnett consequentials.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “This morning the Prime Minister will meet Executive ministers united in our determination to get the right long-term funding package agreed.

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“If we are to tackle the serious problems across public services – in our hospital and our schools - then how we are funded needs to change and I will be strongly pressing that point at today’s meeting.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont CastleFirst Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle
First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle

“It is critical that the Executive has the right resources to deliver effective public services for all our citizens and we will engage with the Prime Minister to achieve our shared objective.”

The deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly said: “We will be saying that the people of NI deserve better public services and that we need to work together - the Executive and the Government - to deliver long term fiscal stability.

“We are ready to engage with the Government and get down to the work of putting our finances on a sound footing, however, we will also be seeking to ensure the UK Government provides sufficient funding in a package to fulfil its promises on public sector pay.”

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The First Minister and deputy First Minister are expected to tell Mr. Sunak that Scotland and Wales are both funded considerably above need, and that the North’s public services will be consistently funded below need unless the Barnett allocations are amended.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle.Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle.
Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle.
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Michelle O’Neill makes history as nationalist First Minister as new Executive in...

Equally, they will warn that £584million set aside for public sector pay demands in Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris’ £3.3bn December ‘get Stormont back’ package falls short of the known pressures of £690millon.

The talks are taking place after a momentous day on Saturday when Ms. O’Neill became the first ever republican First Minister.

The Sinn Féin vice-president was appointed after the Assembly was convened for the eighth time since the 2022 Assembly election.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEyeChris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Chris Heaton-Harris, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, First Minister Michelle O'Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Rishi Sunak, Prime Minister at Stormont Castle. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
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Ms. Little-Pengelly, the DUP co-optee for Lagan Valley, was nominated as the new deputy First Minister.

The appointment of Ms. O'Neill and Ms. Little-Pengelly followed the election of Edwin Poots (DUP) as speaker and John Blair (Alliance) and Steve Aiken (UUP) as deputy speakers.

In a historic moment the new First Minister said: “The days of second-class citizenship are long gone, and today confirms that they will never come back.

"As an Irish republican, I pledge cooperation and genuine honest effort with all those colleagues of the British and unionist tradition who cherish the Union.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont CastleFirst Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle
First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle
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"This is an Assembly for all: Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter. Despite our different outlooks and different views on the future constitutional position, the public rightly demand that we work and deliver together, and also that we build trust and confidence in our ability to collectively do that.”

The Mid Ulster MLA said the new Executive needed to deliver for the people of North and mentioned specific goals such as the A5.

"Regional balance and the continued investment in Derry and the north-west are essential,” she said.

In accepting her nomination Ms. Little-Pengelly said: “I recognise that, for many, today is an historic moment with the nomination of Michelle O'Neill and me as First Ministers. It is a day that confirms the democratic outcome of the election.”

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She stated: “We are all born equal, and the people who look on this sitting today demand that we work together. Michelle is an Irish republican, and I am a very proud unionist. We will never agree on those issues, but we can agree that cancer does not discriminate and that our hospitals need to be fixed.”

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont CastleFirst Minister Michelle O'Neill and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle
First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at Stormont Castle

Following their nominations it was confirmed that Naomi Long of the Alliance Party would resume her role as Justice Minister.

After these key appointments were made the parties selected their preferred departments under the D'Hondt formula.

Sinn Féin, as the largest party, was entitled to the first selection.

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Conor Murphy of Sinn Féin, as he had suggested would be the case in an interview with the 'Journal' last summer, was appointed Minister of the Economy.

In a surprise move, the DUP, declined to select the finance portfolio and nominated Paul Givan as Minister of Education instead.

This prompted a recess with Sinn Féin MLA Sínead Ennis advising MLAs that proceedings had ‘run contrary to how we expected’.

After a short break it was confirmed that East Derry Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald will have control of the Stormont coffers, as Finance Minister.

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Former Economy Minister Gordon Lyons was named as the new Minister for Communities.

The Ulster Unionist Party's Robin Swann will resume his role as Minister of Health, in what will be the party's sole portfolio.

The penultimate ministerial selection saw Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd returned to once again take charge at the Department of Infrastructure where he had served between May and October 2022.

The Alliance Party's Andrew Muir, a one-time member of the SDLP who lived in Derry as a student in the 1990s and makes history as Stormont's first openly gay minister, was selected as Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

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Following the appointment of the Executive, the SDLP confirmed, it would be forming an official Opposition under the leadership of South Belfast MLA Matthew O’Toole.

In the final piece of business Aisling Reilly (Sinn Féin) and Pam Cameron (DUP) were appointed to service as junior ministers under Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly in The Executive Office.

None of the five Derry MLAs will assume ministerial roles with Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Delargy and Ciara Ferguson, the SDLP’s Mark Durkan and Sinéad McLaughlin and the DUP’s Gary Middleton set to be appointed to departmental scrutiny committees on Tuesday.