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Michelle O'Neill becomes Northern Irish first minister as power sharing resumes in Stormont

Northern Ireland's first minster, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill (AFP via Getty Images)
Northern Ireland's first minster, Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill (AFP via Getty Images)

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill is set to make history as Northern Ireland's first ever nationalist first minister.

Politicians gathered in administrative capital Stormont on Saturday with intentions to install a new power sharing agreement and end a two year parliamentary stalemate.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which wants to maintain links with the UK, came to the table after being given assurance from Westminster about a post-Brexit trading agreement.

This allowed members of the legislative assembly to come to a power sharing agreement. Ms O’Neill, as part of the nationalist Sinn Fein, will be the first to hold the role with the ideology of wanting Ireland to become one unified country.

However, she will not be allowed to action this as the DUP is to put forward a, currently unnamed deputy, who has an authority equal to that of the first minister.

Michelle O'Neill walks down the steps in the Northern Irish assembly building (AP)
Michelle O'Neill walks down the steps in the Northern Irish assembly building (AP)

"This is a historic day," Ms O'Neill tweeted "As a first minister for all, I am determined to lead positive change for everyone, and to work together with others to progress our society in a spirit of respect, co-operation, and equality."

Ms O'Neill, 47, was elected to the Stormont Assembly in 2007 and comes from a family of Irish republicans.

The return to government came exactly two years after a DUP boycott over a dispute about trade restrictions for goods coming into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

Northern Ireland was left without a functioning administration as the cost of living soared and public services were strained.

An open border between the north and the republic was a key pillar of the peace process that ended the Troubles, so checks were imposed instead between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

An agreement a year ago between the UK and the EU, known as the Windsor Framework, eased customs checks and other hurdles but didn't go far enough for the DUP, which continued its boycott.

The UK government this week agreed to new changes that would eliminate routine checks and paperwork for most goods entering Northern Ireland, although some checks will remain for illegal goods or disease prevention.

The new changes included legislation "affirming Northern Ireland's constitutional status" as part of the UK and giving local politicians "democratic oversight" of any future EU laws that might apply to Northern Ireland.

The UK government also agreed to give Northern Ireland more than £3 billion for its battered public services once the Belfast government is back up and running.

“I believe that my party has delivered what many said we couldn't,” DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said outside the assembly chamber in Stormont.

“We have brought about change that many said was not possible, and I believe that today is a good day for Northern Ireland, a day when once again our place in the United Kingdom and its internal market is respected and protected in our law and restored for all our people to enjoy the benefits of our membership of the union.”