Michelle O'Neill says she represents Good Friday generation after historic appointment as first nationalist First Minister

Michelle O'Neill says she represents Good Friday generation after historic appointment as first nationalist First Minister

SINN FÉIN'S Michelle O'Neill has said she hopes her historic appointment as First Minister can build upon the progress made in the quarter-of-a-century since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

On Saturday, Ms O'Neill became the first nationalist appointed to the role of First Minister after the DUP agreed to return to power sharing in the wake of its deal with the British Government.

Her appointment comes two years after Sinn Féin won the most seats at the 2022 Assembly Election, allowing the party to nominate her for the role.

As the largest unionist party, the DUP nominated Emma Little-Pengelly to the role of Deputy First Minister.

Of the eight departments outside the Executive Office, Sinn Féin will minister three, the DUP and Alliance party will each minister two and one will be ministered by the Ulster Unionists.

'Good Friday generation'

Speaking on Saturday, Ms O'Neill said her political career was inspired by Good Friday Agreement and hoped its ethos would inspire her tenure as she vowed to be 'a First Minister for all'.

"I was a 20-year-old mother at the time of the Agreement and I remember vividly the sense of hope and optimism," she said.

"I got right in behind politics and have worked since then to build the peace.

"There is no question that our society has been fundamentally transformed because of the peace process.

"I stand here proud, elected First Minister as someone who represents the Good Friday generation, and someone who will lead us into the next 25 years.

"I am also an Ulster woman, and a deeply proud Irish and European citizen.

Newly-appointed First Minister Ms O'Neill speaks during proceedings of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont on Saturday (Image: Kelvin Boyes - Pool / Getty Images)

"This is an historic day which represents a new dawn. For the first time ever, a nationalist takes up the position of First Minister.

"That such a day would ever come would have been unimaginable to my parents and grandparents' generation.

"Because of the Good Friday Agreement that old state that they were born into is gone. A more democratic, more equal society has been created making this a better place for everyone.

"This place we call home, this place we love, North of Ireland or Northern Ireland, where you can be British, Irish, both or none, is a changing portrait.

"Yesterday is gone. My appointment reflects that change. I am a republican. I will serve everyone equally and be a First Minister for all.

"To all of you who are British and unionist; your national identity, culture and traditions are important to me. I will be both inclusive and respectful to you.

"None of us are being asked or expected to surrender who we are. Our allegiances are equally legitimate.

"Let's walk this two-way street and meet one another halfway. I will be doing so with both an open hand and with heart."

Tories' 'decade of shame'

Ms O'Neill previously spoke of the need to address the ‘bread and butter’ problems affecting ordinary people, with the ability to tackle the issues held up by the Stormont stalemate.

She reiterated that point again on Saturday, vowing to address the cost-of-living crisis, public sector pay disputes, infrastructure delays, hospital waiting lists and struggling public services.

She laid the blame for the latter at the door of the Tories, with civil servants seemingly struggling to operate within budgets set by the government in the absence of the Assembly.

"Tory austerity has badly damaged our public services. They have presided over more than a decade of shame. They have caused real suffering," she said.

"I wish to lead an Executive which has the freedom to make our own policy and spending choices. We cannot continue to be hamstrung by Tories in London."

Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris has previously said he would prefer such matters be dealt with by a restored Executive and had offered additional funding to encourage a return to power sharing.