Johnson’s Stormont visit to focus on public service reforms
Politicians in North agree to move forward and avoid ‘refighting battles of the past’
Three years after the collapse of the powersharing institutions Mr Johnson is to meet the DUP First Minister Arlene Foster and Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the newly appointed Ministers as the Executive and Assembly begin the work of running Northern Ireland again.
One of the first priorities of the Executive, as Mr Johnson said last night, will be settling the health workers’ industrial action and tackling the health crisis.
Downing Street said the discussions would “focus on the Executive’s priorities to take forward critical reforms to public services”.
“This is an historic time for the people of Northern Ireland,” said Mr Johnson. “After three years, Stormont is open for business again with an Executive who can now move forward with improving people’s lives and delivering for all communities in Northern Ireland.”
The prime minister said he looked forward to meeting the new Executive and hearing about its plans for the future, “including driving forward much needed reforms to public services and resolving the current health strike”.
Publication of the New Decade, New Approach agreement last Thursday by Northern Secretary Julian Smith and Tánaiste Simon Coveney paved the way for Mr Johnson’s visit and resumption of the Assembly on Saturday afternoon.
After three years of often bitter divisions, primarily between the DUP and Sinn Féin, restoration of Stormont took place in a positive spirit with Ms Foster and Ms O’Neill focusing on the need for reconciliation and seeking common ground.
Political consensus at last?
In the Assembly chamber, Ms Foster said that, in relation to the previous three years, there was “plenty of blame to go around but the time has come to move forward with resolution”.
Ms Foster doubted if she and Ms O’Neill ever could agree on a narrative of the past 40 years. “But we can agree that there was too much suffering, and that we cannot allow society to drift back and allow division to grow.”
Ms O’Neill said as politicians approached “the centenary of partition, let’s not refight battles of the past”.
She added: “It is time to bring people together. We can open doors and we can let this future in. We must give people hope and our young people opportunity.”
Sinn Féin Minister for Finance Conor Murphy said the British and Irish governments must deliver on their promise to provide substantial funding to assist the restoration of the Executive, while new Ulster Unionist Party Minister for Health Robin Swann said he will meet unions this week to try and resolve the health workers’ pay dispute.