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New British Prime Minister Keir Starmer welcomed in Northern Ireland

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New British Prime Minister Keir Starmer visited Northern Ireland on Monday, where he received a warm welcome in a region where expectations are high after the tensions created by Brexit. The new head of the Labor government held early morning meetings with Prime Minister Michelle O'Neill (Sinn Féin, Republican) and Deputy Prime Minister Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP, Unionist) as part of her inaugural tour of the UK. Starmer hopes the two camps, which govern together under the 1998 peace accord, will bring more stability and commitment to the province and ease ties with Dublin.

“We shared with the Prime Minister our delight that Labor, the party of the Good Friday Agreement, is back in government in London,” Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou Macdonald said. She told the media that she had reminded the new British leader that “referendums and the conditions around referendums chart our future” were at the heart of the deal that brought peace after three decades of bloody conflict, signed under Tony Blair.

“Productive Discussion”. At the end of Thursday's general election, the main republican party, Sinn Féin, retained its seven seats and became the Northern Irish party with the most representation in the British Parliament in London. To signal his rejection of British sovereignty in Northern Ireland, he does not sit in Westminster. Sinn Féin edged out the DUP, which lost three out of eight seats, including two to other unionist parties. This could lead to the Republican Party further mobilizing its foot soldiers to demand a referendum on Irish unification.

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The party, the former political wing of the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Troubles, is already the dominant force in the Northern Irish local assembly. But for James Pow, a professor at Queen's University in Belfast, “the fundamentals haven't changed”, with Northern Ireland's position within the United Kingdom and a roughly equal distribution of votes between Republicans in the legislative election. In favor of integration. DUP leader Gavin Robinson spoke of a “productive discussion” with Keir Starmer and stressed the need for London to “heal” its relationship with Northern Ireland.

Historically, Unionists have been allied with the British Conservative Party, but few mourned the defeat of the Tories after 14 years in power. Among unionists, “there is hope that Keir Starmer will be able to promote greater alignment with the EU (on trade matters), which will reduce the impact of Brexit”, explains James Poe. Unionists continue to see the post-Brexit trade rules, agonizingly agreed after months of institutional deadlock, as establishing a border in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United States.

Controversial law. Labour's program plans to overhaul the controversial “heritage and reconciliation” law, one of the rare measures involving Northern Ireland, which led to Ireland's appeal against London to the European Court of Human Rights. The law, which took effect in May, is expected to end problem-related felony investigations, civil cases and criminal prosecutions and provide immunity for veterans on all sides.

According to John Tongin, professor of political science at the University of Liverpool, all parties hope the Labor government will be “more open” about its review of London's allocation to Northern Ireland. Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris warmly welcomed Keir Starmarin's victory and accepted an invitation to Downing Street, scheduled for July 17. He said that both the leaders have decided to reset and strengthen bilateral relations.

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Peter Murphy

© Agence France-Presse

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