Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Belfast to meet Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill

Boris Johnson flies into Northern Ireland today
Boris Johnson flies into Northern Ireland today
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Boris Johnson will fly into Belfast today to meet Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill after the Northern Ireland government got back up and running after three years.

The prime minister, speaking after the first sitting of the re-formed Assembly was held on Saturday, hailed the occasion as “historic”.

First Minister Arlene Foster with deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Parliament Buildings, Stormont.  Photo by Kelvin Boyes  / Press Eye.

First Minister Arlene Foster with deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill at Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye.

Mr Johnson said he now looks forward to meeting with the First Minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster, and the Deputy First Minister, Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, to hear about their plans to “resolve” the strikes in the health service and to reform public services.

His comments came after the newly elected health minister, former UUP leader Robin Swann, confirmed his intention to meet with trade unions as soon as possible.

One of the largest trade unions in the health service, the Royal College of Nursing has said it may be possible to suspend industrial action if Mr Swann can offer “a formal assurance” that its “requirements will be met”.

Ahead of his visit, Mr Johnson said: “This is an historic time for the people of Northern Ireland. After three years, Stormont is open for business again.”

He said the Northern Ireland Executive “can now move forward with improving people’s lives and delivering for all communities in Northern Ireland”.

The prime minister added: “I look forward to meeting with the new Executive and hearing about their plans for the future – including driving forward much-needed reforms to public services and resolving the current health strike.

“The next decade will be an incredible time of opportunity for Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom as we come together to unleash the potential of our four nations.”

Meanwhile, a Sinn Fein minister has said the deal to restore Stormont has created a “beachhead” to advance the debate toward a united Ireland.

Declan Kearney, a newly appointed junior minister in the Executive, said the institutions would work as an “engine” for moving to constitutional change.

But the DUP has insisted it will not tolerate any moves toward reunification and has characterised the deal as good for Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Mr Kearney, Sinn Fein’s national chairman, said he was confident a return to power-sharing would create the circumstances to deliver Irish unity.

He told RTE’s The Week In Politics: “I see it as an opportunity now to not only ensure that these institutions work in the interests of all sections of society and firmly on the basis of rights, equality and integrity but we have now got a landmark opportunity, a beachhead with which to advance the debate on constitutional change in the island and to take this as an engine for moving forward towards Irish unity and I am very confident that we have the circumstances to achieve that.”

DUP Economy Minister Diane Dodds disagreed with Mr Kearney’s interpretation and insisted people were more interested in bread and butter issues.

“Arlene Foster said yesterday in her speech that she will probably never agree with Michelle O’Neill’s interpretation of the past and we will certainly not agree with any moves toward a united Ireland,” she told the same programme on Sunday.

“But what people in Northern Ireland are demanding, no matter what tradition they come from, is that we actually work together to deliver on their priorities.

“And their priorities are education, they are health, they are growing the economy, they are providing jobs, they are providing training and that is the most important thing to people in Northern Ireland.”

In other developments yesterday, the new Finance Minister, Conor Murphy, called on the British and Irish governments to deliver the promised financial package.

Mr Murphy said: “The New Decade, New Approach document presented by the governments contains ambitious commitments for public services and workers.

“To deliver these commitments, the governments pledged a substantial injection of funding, over and above the block grant.

“The local parties have done their part by restoring the power-sharing Executive. The two governments must now honour their pledge and provide the funding needed to deliver on the New Decade, New Approach document.”