Rishi Sunak to visit Northern Ireland on Monday to meet new power-sharing leaders

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

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a session with local business leaders during a visit to Coca-Cola HBC in Lisburn, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. AFP
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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will visit Northern Ireland on Monday to meet the leaders of the region’s new power-sharing Executive.

The Assembly returned on Saturday following a two-year political deadlock, with Sinn Fein'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.

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

During his visit, his seventh to Northern Ireland, he will also carry out a number of community engagements, meeting people involved in public services.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is also expected to visit Stormont on Monday.

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

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.

Ms O'Neill said 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.”

Ms O'Neill has said she expects a vote on Irish unity to take place in the next decade.

Speaking in an interview with Sky News aired on Sunday, Ms O’Neill contested the UK government’s position that unification is still decades away.

“I believe also equally that we can do two things at once: we can have power-sharing, we can make it stable, we can work together every day in terms of public services and whilst we also pursue our equally legitimate aspirations,” Ms O’Neill said.

Asked about whether she anticipated a referendum on Irish unity within the next 10 years, she said: “Yes, I believe we’re in the decade of opportunity and there are so many things that are changing, all the old norms, the nature of this seat, the fact that a nationalist republican was never supposed to be first minister.

“That all speaks to that change in terms of what’s happened here on this island.”

Updated: February 04, 2024, 7:14 PM