December 2, 2023

Northern Ireland remains politically deadlocked in a year of change, with no executive formed at Stormont and Michelle O’Neill still unable to take the office of first minister after her Sinn Fein party finished first in May elections.

Loyalist opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol has prevented the formation of a new administration, with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris expected to formalise a new election next year.

Ms O’Neill, whose party is the first pro-Irish unity to win a poll north of the border since partition, offered condolences to the King following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, while Northern Ireland also lost other significant figures including Nobel laureate David Trimble and Baroness May Blood.

Bloody Sunday 50th anniversary
People take part in the annual Bloody Sunday march on the 50th anniversary (Brian Lawless/PA)

First Minister of Northern Ireland Paul Givan arrives at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast, ahead of his announcement that he will resign his post in a Brexit protocol protest (Peter Morrison/PA)

Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann ended Covid restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)
Northern Ireland Minister of Health Robin Swann ended Covid restrictions (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Unite union said it will ballot its members on the improved pay offe
Flowers rest against the closed constituency office of DUP MLA Christopher Stalford in South Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

A more normal life was beckoning for Northern Ireland with Robin Swann having lifted Covid restrictions but May elections brought a political breakthrough with Ms O’Neill set to become first minister after her party’s win.

However, that scenario was prevented by the lack of co-operation from the DUP over its opposition to Brexit trading arrangements.

Northern Ireland Assembly elections
Sinn Fein deputy leader Michelle O’Neill reacts to her election in Mid Ulster at the Northern Ireland Assembly Election count centre at Meadowbank Sports arena in Magherafelt in Co Londonderry (Niall Carson/PA)

2022 NI Assembly election
Michelle O’Neill (left) and Mary Lou McDonald during a Sinn Fein press conference at Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast, following the historic result with Sinn Fein overtaking the DUP to become the first nationalist or republican party to emerge top at Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)

Northern Ireland centenary parade
DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson at Stormont before the start of the Northern Ireland centenary parade from Stormont towards City Hall in Belfast, to commemorate the creation of Northern Ireland (Niall Carson/PA)

Platinum Jubilee
Women attend a Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Tea Dance at Belfast City Hall (Brian Lawless/PA)

Conservative leadership bid
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis was among those to quit over the Chris Pincher scandal (Yui Mok/PA)

Battle of the Boyne bonfires
A couple in silhouette have their picture taken at the Craigyhill loyalist bonfire in Larne, Co Antrim, on the Eleventh night (Liam McBurney/PA)

David Trimble funeral
A order of service placed on a seat reserved for the funeral of former Northern Ireland first minister and UUP leader David Trimble (Liam McBurney/PA)

Lord Trimble’s death marked the passing of an era as he was remembered for his role in forging peace but the death of Queen Elizabeth II saw the late monarch receive tributes from Sinn Fein figures who are implacably opposed to the UK monarchy.

The King met Ireland's President Michael D Higgins (right) as they attend a Service of Reflection for Queen Elizabeth II at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)
The King met Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins (right) as they attended a service of reflection for the Queen at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast (Liam McBurney/PA)

Queen Elizabeth II death
The King’s visit to Northern Ireland after his accession was notable for an outburst prompted by a leaky pen (Niall Carson/PA)

Queen Elizabeth II death
The King meeting Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down (Niall Carson/PA)

Queen Elizabeth II death
Members of the public visit a mural to Queen Elizabeth II on the Shankill Road in Belfast ahead of a national minute’s silence (Liam McBurney/PA)

Queen Elizabeth II funeral
People in the grounds of Belfast City Hall watch the Queen’s funeral (Liam McBurney/PA)

Baroness May Blood funeral
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill (centre left) leaving after the funeral of Baroness May Blood at Ballygomartin Presbyterian Church in Belfast (Niall Carson/PA)

Northern Ireland Assembly election 2022
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said a new Stormont election would have to be called (Brian Lawless/PA)

The end of the late Queen’s reign was marked by civility from even those parts of the community opposed to the British presence in Northern Ireland.

Getting the political institutions up and running again will be the challenge for 2023 at a time where support for Sinn Fein is at an all-time high and as the UK moves on from a historic reign that began long before the Troubles.


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