February 3, 2024
Remarks by First Minister Michelle O’Neill MLA NI Assembly Sitting

3rd February 2024

Thank you, a Cheann Chomhairle.

Is mór an onóir dom seasamh anseo mar priomhaire. Today opens the door to the future – a shared future. I am honoured to stand here as First Minister.

We mark a moment of equality and progress.

A new opportunity to work and grow together.

Confident that wherever we come from, whatever our aspirations, we can and must build our future together.

I am delighted to see every MLA back in this chamber.

I welcome the fact that the DUP has decided to re-enter the democratic institutions and that the outcome of the Assembly election is now being respected.

I look forward to a plenary meeting of the North-South Ministerial Council shortly.

The power-sharing coalition formed by the parties here today must now dedicate itself to delivering an ambitious Agenda for Change.

I wish incoming ministers well and pledge to work and collaborate with each of you.

The public are relying on each of us to act in their best interests and to serve our whole community in good faith.

We must make power sharing work because collectively, we are charged with leading and delivering for all our people, for every community.

In common cause we must make life better for workers, families, communities. To create hope and opportunity.

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We must be respectful of each other.

The days of second-class citizenship are long gone.

Today confirms that they are never coming back.

As an Irish republican I pledge cooperation and genuine honest effort with those colleagues who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the Union.

This is an assembly for all – Catholic, Protestant and dissenter.

Despite our different outlooks and views on the future constitutional position, the public rightly demands that we co-operate, deliver and work together.

We must build trust and confidence in our ability to do that.

That will require courage and ambition not just from us who are elected but from the public. We can all invest in this and the more of us that do the better the chance it has.

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This power-sharing coalition will undoubtedly face great challenges.

There are many nettles to grasp.

The rising cost of living has been a heavy burden on many households and businesses.

There are people living from hand to mouth, and they need our support.

There are too many patients waiting for treatment and support.

Our teachers, nurses and all public sector workers are being forced on to the picket line.

This demands urgent action.

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

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.

Together, we must unite and fight with one voice the corner of every citizen, to ensure that public services are funded properly.

We have many shared priorities. Which I know we will all reflect today.

We must deliver on more affordable childcare to support workers and families. We must deliver social and affordable homes.

Everyone deserves to have a place to call home.

We must transform health and social care.

We must ensure that children with additional needs have first class support.

Key infrastructure development such as the A5, A29 road schemes, Casement Park and other signature projects will be delivered so we can enhance connectivity and support communities.

Regional balance and continued investment in Derry and the North-West are essential. We must work to mitigate the climate catastrophe.

We must protect Lough Neagh and realise its massive potential.

With new leadership in the Economy Department, we will work in partnership with business, the trade union movement, education providers, and the community sector to improve economic performance.

A reformed Invest NI will be required to promote regional balance – because everyone should share in the benefits of prosperity.

We will now begin to seize the considerable opportunities created by the Windsor Framework.

To use dual market access to grow our exports and attract higher-quality FDI.

The Windsor Framework also protects the thriving All-Ireland economy, and we must fully realise its huge potential.

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We must do more to shape the type of society we live in.

Violence against women and girls is an epidemic and it is an emergency that requires urgent action.

That means everyone working collectively to challenge misogyny and sexist attitudes that have led and continue to lead to violence against women.

As political leaders, we need women and girls to know that we have their backs and that we are working to put laws in place to protect them.

One of the first actions that this incoming executive must take is to introduce a new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls.

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Mr Speaker, our society is becoming increasingly diverse as reflected in the census results. That is something to be respected and celebrated.

Everyone, from every section of this society must know they matter, and that we care.

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Last year we marked 25 years of peace and the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

A political accommodation that provided a peaceful and democratic alternative to 30 years of conflict.

We know the value of peace.

Today we are heartbroken for the suffering of the Palestinian people. I call for an immediate ceasefire. For dialogue and peace.

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

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 twenty-five years.

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

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.

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Much suffering and trauma persists as a result of the injustices and tragedies of the past.

We must never forget those who have died or been injured, and their families.

I am sorry for all the lives lost during the conflict. Without exception.

As First Minister I am wholeheartedly committed to continuing the work of reconciliation between all of our people.

The past cannot be changed or undone.

But what we can do is build a better future.

I will never ask anyone to ‘move on’, but I do hope that we can ‘move forward’. I want us to walk in harmony and friendship.

My eyes are firmly fixed on the future.

On unifying people and society.

Every generation must write its own chapter, define its own legacy.

Scotland’s greatest Irish man, James Connolly, proclaimed what must be our ambitions for our young people – ‘Our demands most moderate are, we only want the earth’.

It’s my dream that our children and grandchildren will achieve beyond our wildest ambitions.

I believe in our young people; they can change our society and change the world if we give them the chance.

Let our legacy be that chance, that freedom for every young person, for every child.

1998 opened a new horizon of hope and optimism.

Now in 2024 let’s gift today’s generation all that they deserve. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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