Opinion

The Irish News view: Michelle O’Neill’s ‘first minister for all’ claim will be tested to the limit by unionists

With the long-delayed appointment of Michelle O’Neill as first minister and dwindling support for unionism’s doom-mongers, the north is entering a new era

Michelle O’Neill is expected to become First Minister
Michelle O’Neill Michelle O’Neill will be confirmed as first minister when the Assembly is recalled on Saturday (Niall Carson/PA)

The return of powersharing is a hugely positive development which has the potential to improve lives across the north. Making that a reality depends on our MLAs operating effectively together as they prioritise people above petty politicking.

Previous experience suggests this will be a tall order. Stormont has been synonymous with dysfunction and disarray rather than gracious good government, collapse and chaos rather than stability and delivery.



It is up to the Executive that will be formed today to show that the ideals championed by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 can be made reality in 2024 and beyond.

Central to this will be Michelle O’Neill, whose remarkable personal and political journey sees her become the first republican first minister. The Sinn Féin vice president has pledged to be a ‘first minister for all’ and she can fully expect unionists to test that commitment on a daily basis.

However, it is the DUP’s commitment that should be under the closest scrutiny in the days and weeks ahead. It has behaved disgracefully, and not only through the two years in which it collapsed Stormont.

In the years before that, in its fever to be Brexitier-than-thou among the English nationalists under whose spell it fell, it made a series of catastrophic blunders, including pursuing a fantasy hard Brexit and enabling the nightmarish Boris Johnson.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson deserves some credit for persuading the most antediluvian elements of the DUP that a return to powersharing is essential, but only some. He designed and built the labyrinth that the party has been wandering around since February 2022 and does not deserve the over-the-top backslapping he has received from some quarters since he found the way back to Stormont.

In its fever to be Brexitier-than-thou among the English nationalists under whose spell it fell, the DUP made a series of catastrophic blunders, including pursuing a fantasy hard Brexit and enabling the nightmarish Boris Johnson

At least he has escaped the maze. Jim Allister and a range of eccentric fringe figures are still trapped in there, denouncing the ‘protocol implementers’.

They have been unable to stir up any sort of significant opposition. High points have included an underwhelming legal opinion, presented by Mr Allister and a colleague at a press conference in a manner akin to the announcement of a period of mourning.

A sparsely attended meeting at Moygashel Orange Hall has perhaps been the zenith of the rearguard action.

It’s hardly reminiscent of the Belfast City Hall rally commanded by Ian Paisley in the wake of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Times have changed, and our political landscape has changed with it.