‘Patience proved key’: Prime Minister thanks Taoiseach for Ireland’s support as Stormont gets back to business

‘Patience proved key’: Prime Minister thanks Taoiseach for Ireland’s support as Stormont gets back to business

PRIME MINISTER Rishi Sunak has thanked Taoiseach Leo Varakdar for Ireland’s contribution to the return of power sharing in Northern Ireland.

The pair were both in Belfast yesterday as business got underway following the return of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont Castle after a two-year hiatus.

On Saturday history was made as Sinn Féin's Michelle O’Neill became the first nationalist appointed to the role of First Minister of Northern Ireland.

It marked the end of the ongoing political deadlock in the region and it came after the DUP agreed to return to power sharing after striking a new deal with the British Government.

Ms O’Neill’s 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.

First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Emma Little-Pengelly, greet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he arrives at Stormont Castle on February 5

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.

Those ministers were all back in Parliament Buildings in Belfast yesterday, where Ms O’Neil confirmed she was “looking forward to a busy day ahead”.

She added: “I will represent everyone as a First Minister for All, standing up for workers, families and public services.”

Mr Sunak and Mr Varadkar were on hand to mark the occasion.

The pair took time to engage in a private meeting while there, where they discussed Ireland’s recent Six Nations win over France as well as the historic moment they were witnessing.

First Minister Michelle O'Neill (l), and Deputy First Minister of Emma Little-Pengelly greet Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as he arrives at Stormont Castle on February 5

The Prime Minister began the meeting “by congratulating the Ireland rugby team for their emphatic win against France in the Six Nations on Friday”, a Downing Street representative confirmed.

“The Prime Minister turned to the day’s events and thanked the Taoiseach for the Irish Government’s support for the UK Government efforts to see restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland,” they added.

“This had been a challenging time, but patience had proved key to a deal,” they explained.

“Now that the institutions were up and running again, he wanted to see all three strands functioning equally well.

“The sense of relief and optimism from people in Northern Ireland had been very striking and made it all worthwhile.”

First Minister Michelle O'Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly chat with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris at Stormont yesterday

Welcoming the return of the devolved government in the North, the Taoiseach said it was “a special day for the people of Northern Ireland”.

“I want to congratulate Michelle O’Neill and Emma Little-Pengelly on assuming their roles as First Minister and deputy First Minister. I wish them both well in what will be very demanding roles,” he added.

“I look forward to working with them, and with their Executive colleagues.

“While the last few weeks and months have focused on restoring the Assembly and Executive, the hard work now begins in earnest. Northern Ireland faces a number of real challenges. An Executive working collectively - and prioritising real, everyday needs over questions of identity - can meet these challenges.

“The Government stands ready to support the work of the Executive and to work in partnership with the British Government in this.”