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Frustration but progress: First ministers Foster and O'Neill mark anniversary of power-sharing restoration at Stormont

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Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (right) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill  (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (right) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

PA

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster (right) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have said that while the past year of restored government at Stormont has been frustrating, progress has been made.

Monday marks the one-year anniversary of the restoration of power sharing after a three-year absence.

The New Decade, New Approach was to herald a new start for politics promising openness, transparency and an end to the constant rows which resulted in its ultimate collapse in 2017.

First Minister Arlene Foster said progress had been made despite the coronavirus pandemic impact. Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said while there had been challenges and tough decisions to be made, she was glad to have the Executive in place to make those choices.

The DUP leader said - despite the difficulties - a number of commitments had been brought about.

She highlight the mental health action plan, reform of social housing, justice reform, a veterans commissioner, institutional abuse redress and flag-flying days brought into line with the rest of the UK.

"Progress has been made, but not as much as we would like," she told BBC Good Morning Ulster.

She said mandatory coalition was a "difficult thing to make work".

"We of course have ideologically opposed views. And I made that view clear last year when I said there were things we would never agree on. But what we have to do is search for the common ground. And that's what we have to do."

When you are in government you have a duty to act for all the citizens in Northern Ireland.

She said it was better to have an Executive in place and she would like to be able to move toward a system of voluntary coalition.

"But at the moment we have to work through a very difficult time of the pandemic and try and make decisions for the people of Northern Ireland."

I am very grateful we are there to show the political leadership that was required to take tough decisions. Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill said last January was the start of a "new era in government".

Although she admitted at times it had been frustrating and challenging to work in a mandatory coalition.

"In any given set of circumstances that would always be difficult, you have five political parties with their own identity," she said.

"That in itself is a challenge.

"And then you take all the issues we have to deal with. I am very grateful we have an Executive in place to deal with this pandemic over the last year. I am very grateful we are there to show the political leadership that was required to take tough decisions.

"And I can tell you there have been some tough decisions required.

"We don't always agree of course. We try our best to work together where we can, we try our best to deliver for example the public health message, where we can.

"But it is challenging and at times there are strained relations but I do believe, that everybody sitting around the Executive table is there to do the best, is there to serve the public, is there to provide civic leadership."

She added: "We have to put our hands up and say at times it is frustrating. How others do things is not how I would do things.

"But that is at the heart of our Executive, our power sharing. I believe in power sharing, in the parties working together. But it is up to everybody to put in the big effort everyday to make it work."

Belfast Telegraph


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