Boris Johnson hails 'momentous day' as Northern Ireland executive reopens after three-year deadlock
Boris Johnson has hailed a "momentous day" in Northern Ireland as the Stormont power-sharing executive got up and running again after three years of political deadlock.
The Prime Minister heaped praise on the "great leadership" shown by Northern Ireland's parties as the DUP's Arlene Foster was appointed first minister and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill took the reins as deputy.
The two parties threw their weight behind an agreement to restore Stormont's political institutions some three years after its power-sharing coalition collapsed amid anger over the handling of a renewable energy scheme.
All five main parties in Northern Ireland have joined the new executive, which met on Saturday for the first time since 2017.
The Prime Minister hailed the move as a "momentous" one.
And he added: "As we begin a new decade, we can now look forward to a brighter future for all in Northern Ireland with an executive that can transform public services and improve people’s lives.
"The parties of Northern Ireland have shown great leadership in coming together to accept this fair and balanced deal in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland.
"After three years without devolved government, an executive can now get on with the job of delivering much needed reforms to the health service, education and justice."
Ireland's Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meanwhile praised the parties "for their decision to put the people they represent first and make measured compromises to reach a deal".
He added: "I look forward to working with representatives in Northern Ireland as they begin working together again on behalf of all people in Northern Ireland."
Addressing the assembly, Ms Foster said she had "many differences" with the new deputy first minister but urged Stormont to "move forward".
"Michelle's narrative of the past 40 years could not be more different to mine," she added.
"I'm not sure we will ever agree on much about the past, but we can agree there was too much suffering, and that we cannot allow society to drift backwards and allow division to grow."
Ms O'Neill meanwhile expressed hope that 2020 would bring "real change".
"I see no contradiction in declaring and delivering on our firm commitment to power sharing with unionism in the Stormont Assembly while also initiating a mature and inclusive debate about new political arrangements which examine Ireland's future beyond Brexit," she said.
"Similarly, there is no contradiction in unionism working the existing constitutional arrangements while taking its rightful place in the conversation about what a new Ireland would look like.
"We can do this while maintaining our independent distinct political identities and working in the best interests of all of the people."
The 62-page deal on Northern Ireland's future - called 'New Decade, New Approach' - outlines plans to resolve some of the most contentious issues that have dogged talks to restore power-sharing over the past three years.
It outlines reforms to the so-called 'petition of concern', a cross-community voting mechanism designed to protect minority interests on contentious legislation.
And it vows to set up a new commissioner to "recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland", a key demand of Sinn Féin.