Northern Ireland: Vice President of Sinn Fein Becomes First Minister at Stormont

By Laurence Humphries, RCIT Britain, 19th February 2024




On the 3rd February 2024 Michelle O’Neill was appointed First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive. It is the first time that a nationalist has held that position since the inauguration of the 1998 Good Friday agreement. Power sharing in Northern Ireland has not existed since Sir John Donaldson leader of the DUP resigned because of differences with the then government of Boris Johnson over Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland. Power sharing has now returned to Northern Ireland and the executive will now meet under the leadership of Sinn Fein.


“First Minister Michelle O’Neill hugging British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Stormont has caused concern among some Conservative MPs, it has been claimed. Mr Sunak paid a visit to Stormont Castle on Monday alongside Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to welcome the first sitting of the new executive. The prime minister greeted Ms O’Neill with a hug, but the embrace has led to criticism among some right-wing commentators on social media, while some Conservative MPs are also said to be up in arms over the show of affection.” [1]


Sinn Fein’s leading role in the Northern Ireland Executive reflects the bourgeois transformation which the party had undergone since the days it had given up the anti-imperialist struggle against the British occupation. Historically, the plank of republicanism has been to fight for a 32-county republic, i.e. the reunification of the Northern enclave with the rest of the island to a united Ireland as one state. But O’Neill and Sinn Fein have abandoned cherished republican values for short term collusion with the British state.


“The British and Irish governments have played down Sinn Féin’s calls for Irish unity and said Northern Ireland’s new devolved government can restore stability and faith in the region. Rishi Sunak said Northern Ireland’s place in the UK was protected and urged the Stormont executive – led by Michelle O’Neill, the first nationalist first minister – to focus on bread-and-butter issues, not redrawing the border. It is not constitutional change, it is delivering on the day-to-day things that matter to people,” he said on Monday after meeting executive ministers, party leaders and Ireland’s Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, at Stormont.” [2]


Sunak is motivated by pragmatic interests to ensure the survival of his highly fragile government in the current period of deep economic and political crisis. He needs the support of the DUP in order to bolster the Tories’ parliamentary majority which in itself is faces serious divisions.




The 1998 Good Friday Agreement




In 1998 under the Tony Blair Labour government an agreement was made by both the Republican movement and the Loyalist movements including the paramilitary forces of the Provisional IRA and its brigade commanders. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness – both leaders of Sinn Fein at that time – were present as was the negotiator George Mitchell from the United States. This ended the armed struggle and anti-imperialist struggle against British imperialism and its outpost in Ulster. Many brigade commanders and members of the IRA opposed the GFA agreement and refused to hand in their arms and vowed to continue fighting until Ireland was free. They formed successor organisations of Sinn Fein resp. the IRA which, however, have remained divided and rather small.


“The Good Friday Agreement (GFA) or Belfast Agreement is a pair of agreements signed on 10 April, Good Friday 1998 that ended most of the violence of the Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland since the late 1960s. It was a major development in the Issues relating to sovereignty governance, discrimination military and paramilitary groups, justice and policing were central to the agreement. It restored self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of "power sharing" and it included acceptance of the principle of consent, commitment to civil and political rights cultural parity of esteem, police reform paramilitary disarmament and early release of paramilitary prisoners, followed by demilitarisation The agreement also created a number of institutions between Northern Ireland and Ireland ("North–South"), and between Ireland and the United Kingdom”. [3]


This development represented the transformation process of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland from a petty-bourgeois nationalist party into a bourgeois party.




Anti Imperialist struggle in the 1960s




The anti-imperialist struggle mainly led by the Provisional IRA in the 1960’s was to fight British imperialism in Ireland. Many catholic families at the time were terrorised by loyalist Unionist gangs together with the corrupt police force of Northern Ireland – the RUC. The IRA’s role was to carry out attacks on the police as well as on British soldiers after the Harold Wilson Labour government sent troops into Ulster in 1969. This showed the weakness of British imperialism which had to police the streets themselves with increasing terror right on their backdoor. The history of the state’s involvement in Northern Ireland is a history of murder, assassination and continual repression of the nationalist masses in the north of Ireland.


Internment was the method used by the imperialist state to subjugate the nationalist population in the six counties (called “Ulster” by the British). Its method was that many people, often innocent of any crimes, were incarcerated in concentration camps like Long Kesh (“The Maze”) without trial.




Internment and the hunger strikers




Nationalist prisoners incarcerated in Long Kesh had to suffer many abuses by the British authorities. During Margaret Thatcher’s government many of the IRA prisoners fought for political status and refused to wear prison clothes and wore blankets instead. This was a determined fight against British imperialism. This courageous political fight led by Bobby Sands was rejected by the Thatcher government. It led to the hunger strikes.


At the same time Bobby Sands was selected to fight for a by-election which he won. This political fight against imperialism resulted in Sand’s death and some others who were also on hunger strike. This will come to haunt the present leadership of Sinn Fein who now collude with British Imperialism serving in their institutions and give up the fight for a United Ireland.


“The 1981 Irish hunger strike was the culmination of a five-year protest during the Troubles by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland. The protest began as the blanket protest in 1976, when the British government withdrew Special Category Status (prisoner of war rather than criminal status) for convicted paramilitary prisoners. In 1978, the dispute escalated into the dirty protest, where prisoners refused to leave their cells to wash and covered the walls of their cells with excrement. In 1980, seven prisoners participated in the first hunger strike, which ended after 53 days.


The second hunger strike took place in 1981 and was a showdown between the prisoners and the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. One hunger striker, Bobby Sands, was elected as a member of parliament during the strike, prompting media interest from around the world. The strike was called off after ten prisoners had starved themselves to death, including Sands, whose funeral was attended by 100,000 people. The strike radicalised Irish nationalist politics and was the driving force that enabled Sinn Féin to become a mainstream political party. [4].




Failure of centrism on the national question




Most of the current centrist groups in Britain have consciously opposed the national question and failed to engage in an anti-imperialist struggle. Instead, they adopted a pro-social imperialist position particularly relating to Ireland. For example, the Cliffite SWP had dropped the slogan of “Troops Out”, i.e. they effectively supported the British troops entering Northern Ireland and took a social-imperialist position. (Our predecessor organisation in Britain – Workers Power – emerged at that time as an opposition within the Cliffites against this capitulation.)


The RCIT has always supported anti-imperialist struggle and, where possible, engaged with socialists and others to put such solidarity into practice. We have been active in international workers aid campaigns during the Bosnian War (1993-95) as well as the Ukraine War. Likewise, we are playing an active role in the pro-Palestine solidarity movement.




For a 32-County Workers Republic




The RCIT in Britain puts forward the following transitional demands to unite the Irish masses in a revolutionary struggle to unite Ireland as a revolutionary workers republic.


* Abolish the Stormont Executive, repeal the Good Friday Agreement, break with British imperialism


* For a revolutionary Constituent Assembly


* For armed defence guards and militia to protect the masses from suspected loyalist gangs and fascist provocateurs as well as the police and the Garda


* For the nationalisation of all major corporations under workers control and without compensation for the capitalists.


* For a United 32-County Workers Republic in Ireland






1) First minister’s embrace of Rishi Sunak said to have sparked criticism of PM from Conservative colleagues (


2) British and Irish governments play down Sinn Féin’s calls for united Ireland (


3) Good Friday Agreement - Wikipedia


4) 1981 Irish hunger strike - Wikipedia