The idea of a nationalist prime minister in Northern Ireland, let alone one from Sinn Féin, a party linked to the Catholic IRA (Irish Republican Army) guerrilla group, was once unthinkable. However, now it has become a reality with the assumption of Michelle O'Neill as head of the Northern Irish government.
The new premier represents the regeneration of the nationalist Sinn Féin, a formation that little by little leaves behind its bloody past with the IRA and aspires to establish itself as the main political force of the British province, without ever giving up the objective of the reunification of Ireland and separation From london. O'Neill arrives as political head of a power-sharing government. Previously, the role of Prime Minister had always been held by a unionist politician committed to remaining part of the United Kingdom.
“As prime minister, I am fully committed to continuing the work of reconciliation among all of our people,” O'Neill said, noting that her parents and grandparents would never have imagined that day would come.
Seven years after taking the reins of the party, O'Neill has managed to complete part of the roadmap designed by his predecessors, the historic Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, long before the end of the civil war in 1998. With the IRA already inactive, but still very present in the collective imagination after causing more than 3,000 deaths In almost three decades, the nationalist leader, 47, is the first non-unionist politician to lead the region in its hundred-year history as a British province.
With his help, Sinn Féin won the May 2022 elections at a delicate moment for the province, with Brexit as a great threat to the coexistence of republicans and unionists in the always fragile power-sharing government. He did so with a speech that was attractive to his base and moderate to many Northern Irish who do not consider the island's reunification to be a priority now.
O’Neill, Single mother at 16, she grew up among fervent defenders of the union of the two Irelands. His father was in prison for his membership in the IRA.
But O'Neill embodies a new generation, who entered politics after the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which ended three decades of civil war between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists. Breaking with tradition, O'Neill attended Queen Elizabeth II's funeral in 2022 and then the coronation of her son, Charles III, last May.