Northern Ireland

Sunak and Varadkar to meet new leaders of Stormont Executive

The Assembly returned on Saturday following a two-year political deadlock.

First Minister Michelle O’Neill (right) and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday
Stormont Assembly First Minister Michelle O’Neill (right) and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly will meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday (Liam McBurney/PA)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will meet the leaders of the new power-sharing Executive on Monday.

The Assembly returned on Saturday following a two-year political deadlock, with Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill making history as Northern Ireland’s first nationalist First Minister.

The institutions were restored following a deal between Mr Sunak’s government and the DUP to allay unionist concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking on Sunday evening during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland at their headquarters in Lisburn. PICTURE: CARRIE DAVENPORT/PA
Stormont Assembly Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking on Sunday evening during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland at their headquarters in Lisburn. PICTURE: CARRIE DAVENPORT/PA (Carrie Davenport/Carrie Davenport/PA Wire)

The Prime Minister will be welcomed to Stormont Castle on Monday by Ms O’Neill and deputy First Minister, the DUP’s Emma Little-Pengelly.

Mr Sunak arrived on Sunday evening for his seventh visit to the north since becoming Prime Minister.

His government has pledged £3.3 billion for the new Executive to stabilise finances, including £600 million to settle public sector pay claims.

Asked by broadcasters on Sunday during a visit to Air Ambulance Northern Ireland in Lisburn whether more money could be offered, Mr Sunak said the financial package was a “generous and fair settlement for Northern Ireland”.

“And crucially, it is sustainable. It is about ensuring public finances in Northern Ireland are sustainable for the long term. That approach we have taken, I think will really benefit everyone here,” he said.

“And now that we have got the Executive back up and running, it is right that people have their local politicians focusing on their priorities, starting with public services.

“There has not been devolved government up and running here for far too long. But now we do have it and they can start focusing on delivering for everyone.”

Mr Sunak said he thought there was a “fantastic cause for optimism” after Stormont returned on Saturday, adding there was a “special opportunity” now for Northern Ireland’s political leaders.

On Thursday, the Government fast-tracked two pieces of legislation contained in the agreement through the House of Commons as part of its agreement with the DUP, opening the way for Saturday’s return of the Assembly.

The new Executive is due to hold its first meeting on Monday.

Michelle O’Neill said Northern Ireland had been starved of funding for public services
Stormont Assembly Michelle O’Neill said Northern Ireland had been starved of funding for public services (Liam McBurney/PA)

Ms O’Neill told the PA news agency that it will need to begin work immediately on tackling public sector funding challenges.

She said: “I am determined to do our very best.

“This place has been starved of public services funding for over a decade because of the Tories in London, we can do much better than that.

“That’s a fight I think we have to fight together and I think there’s a combined effort across the Executive to have a proper funding model for here so we actually can do better public services and invest in the public sector workers.”