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What to Know About the Return of Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland

WorldWhat to Know About the Return of Power-Sharing in Northern Ireland

After two years of political gridlock, Northern Ireland is set to finally have a functioning government again. Elected representatives will meet in the Assembly building on the outskirts of Belfast on Saturday and revive the power-sharing government that rules the territory.

There will be one significant change since the last time they gathered: The first minister role will be held for the first time by a Sinn Fein politician, Michelle O’Neill, a significant moment in the history of Northern Ireland.

Here’s what to know.

Sinn Fein was once regarded as the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, or I.R.A., a paramilitary group that waged a bloody campaign against British troops deployed in Northern Ireland. But in the 1980s and 1990s, Sinn Fein’s leaders increasingly pursued a political path rather than the armed struggle favored by hard-liners in the I.R.A., and in 1998 the party signed up to the democratic process outlined in the Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought peace after the decades of violence known as the Troubles.

Since then, Northern Ireland’s first minister has always been a unionist, meaning he or she represents a political party committed to keeping the territory within the United Kingdom.

Sinn Fein, by contrast, believes that the island of Ireland should be a unified sovereign state, undoing the partition that carved up the region in 1921.

Ms. O’Neill’s elevation to first minister of Northern Ireland on Saturday will mark the first time that a politician who wishes to take the territory out of the United Kingdom has held that role.


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