Irish leaders have hailed a “special day for the people of Northern Ireland” as devolved government was restored after two years of suspension.
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill made history on Saturday when she was confirmed as the first nationalist or republican First Minister.
She will serve alongside DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy First Minister.
Former DUP leader Edwin Poots was elected as the new Assembly Speaker.
Irish president Michael D Higgins said the reactivation of the Assembly “will be welcomed by all those who wish to see an effective system of powersharing”.
He also praised the first speeches by Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly in their new roles as “impressive in their inclusion and warmth”.
“The speeches of both the First Minister and the deputy First Minister were most impressive in their inclusion, warmth and their wish to get to grips with all of the important practical tasks that they will face,” he said.
“This obvious shared desire to work together offers the best of prospects for the institutions to serve all of the people and to meet their differing needs.
“I wish the First Minister, deputy First Minister and their Ministers well in their new roles in the work that lies ahead of them as we look ahead to the full restoration of all of the institutions of devolved government.”
Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin said he looks forward to working with all the new ministers.
But he said Northern Ireland “faces a number of real challenges”.
“While the last few weeks and months have focused on restoring the Assembly and Executive, the hard work now begins in earnest,” he said.
“Northern Ireland faces a number of real challenges.
“An Executive working collectively – and prioritising real, everyday needs over questions of identity – can meet these challenges.
I want to congratulate Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly on assuming their roles as First Minister and deputy First Minister. Look forward to working with them. pic.twitter.com/NkagBmElJZ
— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) February 3, 2024
“The Government stands ready to support the work of the Executive and to work in partnership with the British Government in this.”
The Tanaiste also said he looks forward to an “early meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC).
“The NSMC will play a key role in the period ahead in making sure that we make the most of shared opportunities, including supporting the all-island economy, which continues to be a source of prosperity, growth, and livelihoods for many from all communities across this island,” he said.
“Northern Ireland’s unique position as part of the UK internal market while, at the same time, having unique access to the EU’s single market of nearly 450 million people provides a solid opportunity for growth.
“It will now be for the Executive and Assembly to ensure that Northern Ireland can prosper and grow using these unrivalled opportunities.”