Rishi Sunak hails ‘special opportunity’ as he starts Northern Ireland visiton February 4, 2024 at 8:29 pm

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Rishi Sunak is due to meet political leaders on Monday days after devolved government was restored.

Prime minister Rishi SunakImage source, HANNAH MCKAY/REUTERS

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has arrived in Northern Ireland for a visit to mark the return of power-sharing government.

He is due to attend Stormont on Monday with Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar.

Mr Sunak is set to meet ministers, including First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly.

Ms O’Neill made history in becoming Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister.

This is the prime minister’s seventh visit to Northern Ireland since he took office but this is the first time Northern Ireland has had a fully functioning government in that time.

During his visit, Mr Sunak is due to carry out a number of community engagements, meeting people involved in public services.

Downing Street said he would meet emergency responders and community figures in an engagement on Sunday night.

His community engagements on Monday will involve speaking to a “broad range of people from across Northern Ireland including those delivering public services, those supported by them, and their families”.

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Analysis box by Jayne McCormack, NI political correspondent

Mission accomplished – with power sharing back in action, even the prime minister is in town to mark the occasion.

Given the government’s long-running efforts to get a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) over the line, Rishi Sunak has reasons to be cheerful.

But while he will pose for pictures with the parties tomorrow, they will be keen to pose questions to him about Stormont’s future finances.

There’s already a multi-billion pound package about to be handed over – but is the prime minister prepared to part with any more cash to keep the parties happy?

That’s the big question waiting for him on the hill.

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Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government returned on Saturday after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ended its boycott over post-Brexit trade rules.

The DUP agreed to re-enter the institutions after a deal was struck with Mr Sunak’s government, which included the passing of new legislation at Westminster.

The government has also pledged £3.3bn for the restored Northern Ireland Executive, with much of the money aimed at stabilising public services and settling public sector pay disputes.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly met on Saturday to elect a new Speaker and appoint new ministers.

Mr Sunak has often said that getting Stormont up and running was a key priority for his government.

His government renegotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol to the Windsor Framework in 2023, but it was not enough to persuade the DUP to return to Stormont.

Speaking at Westminster last week, Mr Sunak thanked the DUP for the “significant steps” taken in talks towards the return of devolved government.

He also thanked the other Northern Ireland parties for the “patience that they have shown after two years without an executive”.

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