1st Catholic in History Elected as Leader in Northern Ireland is Congratulated by Church Hierarchy of the Island

Northern Ireland has elected its first Catholic as leader of its government. Michelle O’Neill of the Sinn Féin party is the first Catholic “First Minister,” which is the same as prime minister in other countries. She addressed the legislative assembly after her election on February 3rd, O’Neill, age 47, said, “The days of second-class citizenship are long gone, and today confirms that they will never come back.”
Northern Ireland was created, in 1921, 103 years ago with six northeastern counties on the island of Ireland, yet part of Britain when the 26 southern counties won independence from the British government.
At its founding, Protestants supported allegiance to Britain, but Catholics supported unity with the rest of the island to form a single independent Ireland.
The head of the Catholic Church of Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, wrote: 
On this important, historic day for @niassembly I offer my prayers for new FM Michelle O’Neill
@moneillsf DFM Emma Little-Pengelly @little_pengelly the members of @niexecutive
& MLAs. I encourage all to work together for the common good and peace by immediately addressing pressures facing families, the poor and vulnerable in our society."
Also the ecumenical Church leaders released a Joint Statement: Church Leaders welcome political progress in Northern Ireland
Church Leaders Group (Ireland)
 Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland; Bishop Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches; Archbishop John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland; Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and, Rev David Turtle, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

The Church Leaders Group (Ireland) today (2 February) welcomed the anticipated restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland and recognised the challenges in reaching necessary accommodations to enable this to happen.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Ireland, and the Irish Council of Churches said, “As Church leaders we have consistently called for the UK Government to take all necessary steps to facilitate the restoration of good governance in Northern Ireland and the return of fully functioning and resourced devolved institutions, north–south and east–west bodies.“

As the final steps are taken that should lead to the welcome restoration of devolved government, it is important to recognise that government is never simply an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. A re–established Executive and Assembly are first and important steps towards re–establishing hope and a vision for the future. But for that to be achieved it will mean a commitment to focus on the common good. It will mean prioritising the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised of our fellow citizens. And it will mean at times taking the long over–due hard decisions necessary to transform our public services, many of which are close to breaking point.”

The Church Leaders continued, “Partnership government will almost always be challenging, but at its best it can be much more than the sum of its collective parts. It can be the means of delivering together a better and more secure future for all of our fellow citizens, as problems are faced up to and solved, and the new opportunities opening up are grasped.

“In November 2023 we met separately with each of the main Northern Ireland political parties and those discussions were both positive and constructive. Each party expressed a desire and willingness to step up to the mark and play their part in restored institutions, if only the challenge of restoring devolution could be overcome. We are now approaching that moment.”

The Church Leaders concluded by saying, “As in these coming days our political parties seek to move forward together, acting for the common good and governing for all, they do so with the support and prayers of many in our society, ourselves included.”

Most Reverend John McDowell

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland

Most Reverend Eamon Martin

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland

Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney

Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Reverend David Turtle

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

Right Reverend Andrew Forster

President of the Irish Council of Churches


Issued on behalf of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) by Mark Smith, Presbyterian Church in Ireland press officer & media office: +44 (0) 7802 264 354 +44 (0) 28 9041 7292 msmith@presbyterianireland.org

Notes to Editors

Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland)

The Church Leaders Group (Ireland) came into existence in the late 1960s when the Church Leaders recognised the value in working together in light of the urgency of political developments of the time. Since then, those holding these offices have met frequently, united in their identity as disciples of Jesus and their shared commitment to work together for the common good.

The Group comprises the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and Primates of all Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the President of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC). The churches are all–Ireland denominations with congregations situated across the whole of the island of Ireland, while the ICC is an all–Ireland representative church body.