In a move no-one could have envisaged when the Good Friday Agreement resuscitated Stormont 26 years ago, Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill on Saturday became the First Minister of the North of Ireland.
In an emotional address to the Assembly - where Sinn Féin is now the party with the biggest number of seats - the new First Minster urged colleagues to make power sharing work "because collectively we are charged with leading and delivering for al of our people".
She added: "As an Irish republican, I pledge co-operation and genuine honest effort with those colleagues who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the Union. This is an Assembly for all — Catholic, Protestant and dissenter. Despite our different outlooks and views on the future constitutional position, the public rightly demands the we co-operate, deliver and work together."
What A Photo! pic.twitter.com/eKvEUFdKnD— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) February 3, 2024
Sinn Féin also took the Infrastructure, Economy and Finance portfolios while the DUP — who selected Emma Little-Pengelly as deputy First Minister — opted for Education and Communities with Justice and Agriculture going to the Alliance Party and Health returning to Robin Swann of the UUP.
Junior Ministers are West Belfast Irish speaker and former world handball champ Aisling O'Reilly of Sinn Féin and Pam Cameron of the DUP.
There was a stir in the chamber when the DUP put forward Paul Givan — whose move to sink the Líofa Irish language bursary scheme led to the collapse of the Executive in 2017 – rather than opting to fill the Finance Department role. Sinn Féin's Caoimhe Archibald, who had been tipped for Education, was then, after a break in proceedings to allow parties to consider further options, shuffled across by Sinn Féin to take the finance brief.
He says today is also a day to remember victims and to "not forget our past."February 3, 2024
Last night President Biden led plaudits from Irish American political leaders welcoming the return of the Good Friday institutions. Recalling his brief stopover in Belfast last April, the President said "a government that finds ways through hard problems together will draw even greater opportunity to Northern Ireland".
He added: "I look forward to seeing the renewed stability of a power-sharing government that strengthens the peace dividend, restores public services and continues building on the immense progress of the last decades."
The DUP's corralling of the education and communities roles struck a sour note with Irish language activists who see both departments as core to the demands of the Irish language community.
"Today should have been a day full of optimism and hope for the Irish language community but the overriding emotion is one of disappointment," said Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh of Conradh na Gaeilge. "Outstanding commitments for Irish language rights, including the long-overdue appointment of an Irish language Commissioner, did not feature in any speech in today's Assembly meeting. In the meantime many in the Irish language Community would have expected Sinn Féin to take either the Communities or Education portfolios, by extension in charge of Irish Medium Education or Language promotion and funding.
2 Ministers, from the party that has done most in recent times to block fairness & language rights for Irish language community in the north, appointed to historically most important depts for language’s futureFebruary 3, 2024
"With the DUP, whose track record in both of these Departments is well known, in charge of both, we now know we will face a battle a day to ensure equality and parity of esteem for the Irish language in the coming years."