The chamber’s ornate ceiling remained blue, red and gold, and Portland stone still held up the Stormont edifice, but the beaming Sinn Féin faces declared this was a historic moment for Irish nationalism.
Michelle O’Neill became Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister in a day of symbolism and pomp that restored devolved government and etched an epitaph on the tomb of what was once a unionist state.
The union endured – Northern Ireland remains part of the UK and a referendum on Irish unity is not on the horizon – but when the assembly nominated O’Neill at 2.33pm yesterday for republicans the countdown to potential unification ticked louder.
O’Neill avoided triumphalism and made no explicit mention of constitutional change in an inaugural address that focused on reconciliation and bread-and-butter issues.
“I will serve everyone equally and be a first minister for all,” she said. “Wherever we come from, whatever our aspirations, we can and must build our future together. We must make power-sharing work because collectively, we are charged with leading and delivering for all our people, for every community.”
The appointment of a republican first minister represented “a new dawn” unimaginable to past generations of Catholics who experienced discrimination, said O’Neill, 47. “That state is now gone.”
For all the conciliatory words, the County Tyrone republican comes from an IRA family, defends the legitimacy of IRA violence and honours IRA members. She tacitly disputes Northern Ireland’s legitimacy by referring to it as the “north of Ireland”.
Stormont’s architects represented the six counties by building six floors and erecting six pillars, all mounted on a granite base, but Sinn Féin, ascendant north and south of the border, has its eyes on all 32 counties. [Continue reading…]