Three years after its collapse, the Northern Assembly was officially back on Saturday noon after the publication of the UK-Irish Stormont Restoration Agreement.
And when the wheels of the powersharing administration slowly got going after 36 months of paralysis, the incoming first minister of the DUP, Arlene Foster, promised “to get Northern Ireland moving again”.
“We will not solve every problem immediately, but local ministers will implement important reforms in schools and hospitals,” she promised.
The meeting of the meeting began at 1:00 p.m. with the election of a speaker and an alternate speaker, initially chaired by George Robinsons, a member of the DUP East Derry DUP meeting.
Before moving on to these elections, he went through the list of members who had resigned or been replaced since the last full session of the Assembly three years ago.
There were three nominations for the position of spokesman Alex Maskey from Sinn Féin, an MLA in West Belfast; East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs from the Ulster Unionist Party; and Mid-Ulster SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone.
Peter Weir of the DUP caused some surprises when he said his party supported Mr. Maskey for the speaker position and apparently showed that his party and Sinn Féin were determined from the start to make the restored dispensation work.
Mr. Weir said that the MLAs are embarking on a “long journey, an endless journey to make life better for all of us,” adding, “It is a challenge for all of us to work together.”
No wonder the first mismatched note of the day came from Jim Allister, chairman of Traditional Unionist Voice, who said that the deal’s title, New Decade, New Approach, was the same “old breakdown between DUP and Sinn Féin ”.
“Nothing has changed, nothing is new, and nothing good is going to come out of it,” he said, adding that for many, the sight of DUP-MLAs pushing through the lobby to support a Sinn Féin spokesman are not lost becomes.
Mr. Allister would have preferred to see Mr. Beggs or Mr. McGlone as a speaker because “none of them have luggage that prevents them from doing their job”. It was “the same old, the same old,” he complained.
Nevertheless, the vote was held and Mr Maskey was properly elected and normal business could start with the Sinn Féin MLA chaired by the speaker.
Michelle O’Neill from Sinn Féin leads her group to the Stormont Chamber. Photo: Michael Cooper / PA
Sinn Féin welcomed his election to the Chamber, but the DUP members did not, although the DUP members had voted for him.
Mr. Maskey thanked everyone who voted for him and said it was important that he was elected by a community. He hoped that the congregation could continue its work in a spirit of generosity and reconciliation.
Business then continued throughout the afternoon until the next proper number of deputy spokespersons was known.
Christopher Stalford from the DUP, Roy Beggs from the UUP and Patsy McGlone from the SDLP were elected deputy spokesmen.
The next job was the election of a business committee, followed by the election of DUP director Arlene Foster as first minister and deputy Sinn Féin director Michelle O’Neill as deputy first minister and a new executive.
This work should last until around 4:30 p.m.
‘What a week’
North Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste and Secretary of State Simon Coveney, whose publication late Thursday prompted the parties to re-enter Stormont, were absent, but wished the parties all the best.
Mr Smith had warned that if no agreement was reached by 11:59 p.m. next Monday, he would schedule assembly meetings – a challenge that most parties, particularly DUP and Sinn Féin, did not want to face.
“What a week,” Mr. Coveney wrote in a tweet. “The ingredients for speed, leadership and a fixed deadline have given the politics of this place another chance,” he added.
In a tweet to the leaders of the five main parties, Mr. Smith wrote: “Well done and good luck!”
Under the new agreement, the new executive and assembly will address a variety of issues, such as the Irish language, the sustainability of a reformed assembly and the petition that is of concern.
The UK and Irish governments also promised substantial financial support to address issues such as the health crisis, education, housing, infrastructure and the construction of the Northern Irish economy
Parliamentary reports show first speaker only - follow this lnk for the full transcription.
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