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Northern Ireland’s new first minister Michelle O’Neill ‘contests’ claim Irish unity is ‘decades’ away | UK News

Northern Ireland’s new first minister has told Sky News she “absolutely contests” the UK government’s claim that a referendum on Irish unity is decades away.

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill, the first nationalist to occupy the office, described her elevation at Stormont as “a historic day, truly representing a new dawn”.

In a document, outlining the basis of the DUP’s return to power-sharing, the UK government said it saw “no realistic prospect of a border poll”.

But Ms O’Neill said: “I would absolutely contest what the British government have said in that document, in so far as my election to the post of first minister demonstrates the change that’s happening on this island.

“That’s a good thing. It’s a healthy thing because this change I think can benefit us all.

“I believe that we’re in the decade of opportunity and I believe, also equally, that we can do two things at once.

“We can have power-sharing, we can make it stable, we can work together every day in terms of public services, and whilst we also pursue our equally legitimate aspirations.

“There are so many things that are changing. All the old norms, the nature of this state, the fact that a nationalist republican was never supposed to be first minister. That all speaks to the change,” she added.

Ms O’Neill grew up in the “murder triangle” in County Tyrone. Her father was an IRA prisoner and her cousin was shot dead by the SAS.

But having pledged to be a “first minister for all”, she broke with republican tradition by using the term “Northern Ireland” in her acceptance speech.

“I’m somebody who wants to be a unifier. I’m somebody that wants to bring people together.

“We’ve had a difficult past, a turbulent past. A lot of harm was caused in the past and I think it’s so, so important that here in 2024, and we’ve just celebrated the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement last year, that we very much look towards the future.

“I hope I can represent the future. I believe I can represent the future, as somebody who wants to work with all communities.

“I obviously am a republican, a proud republican, but I think it’s really, really important that I can look towards those people who identify as Irish republicans, but also those of a British identity and unionist identity and tell them that I respect their values, I respect their culture.”

Asked if her pledge meant she would consider attending a Protestant Orange Order march, she said: “I will consider every invitation that comes my way.

“I’m hoping that I get invitations. I want to step into ground that republicanism hasn’t stepped into before,” she added.

Watch the full interview with Michelle O’Neill on Sunday Morning With Trevor Phillips on Sky News from 8.30am.

UK hosting Eurovision for Ukraine is special moment of unity, say refugees | Ents & Arts News

Ukraine’s Eurovision entry this year was written during the fall of Mariupol.

Electronic duo Tvorchi will be performing the song, Heart of Steel, in the final on Saturday.

The group told Sky News that performing it in Liverpool – despite winning last year, Ukraine is unable to host the event for obvious reasons – feels bittersweet.

“We would be happier if this could happen in Ukraine, and we didn’t experience the war and full-scale invasion,” said Andrii Hutsuliak.

“But we want to say a huge thanks to the UK for hosting it and all the support we received, it means a lot to us.”

Getting to Liverpool meant succeeding in their national competition last year in Ukraine.

The event took place in a converted underground station in the capital Kyiv.

A banner promoting the Eurovision Song Contest near The Royal Liver Building in Liverpool, Merseyside
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The group won a contest held in a Kyiv underground station

It was being used as a bomb shelter but was transformed into a TV studio and stage for the night and was live-streamed as 10 acts performed for a spot in Liverpool.

The UK stepping in to host this year’s competition on their behalf means a lot to the refugees in the North West who have sought sanctuary there over the past year.

Anastasiia Spivak, 23, came to the UK six months ago to live with a host family.

Anastasiia Spivak, 23
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Anastasiia says she feels ‘warm in my heart’ because of all support

Sky News met her as she was fundraising for Ukraine outside the concert venue, draped in the blue and yellow flag.

“I love seeing the Ukrainian signs, Ukrainian flag and colours everywhere I go. I really feel so warm in my heart because everyone here is really supporting our culture in many different ways,” she said.

Tetiana Naimanova, 28, is with her also raising awareness about the conflict in Ukraine.

She said: “We are so grateful to Liverpool and the UK for having us here and hosting on behalf of Ukraine.

“This is really the unity of two countries, two cultures and having all people around the world, around Europe coming here and discovering Ukraine is so special.”

Read more:
All you need to know about the Eurovision in Liverpool
MP seeks assurances voting will be protected from Russian threats

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They are both excited and proud that the Eurovision Song Contest is honouring Ukraine. It feels poignant to them both and much needed, as Tetiana explained.

“It’s really important for us to have this moment in the middle of what’s going on to find this opportunity to celebrate and to be together and to remind people that the war is still going on but we have to support each other.

“We have to do whatever we can to support Ukraine and we’re really happy that we have the opportunities here to get that support.”

Liverpool will have love and support in abundance come Saturday when they throw a party Ukraine wishes it could, and one day they hope will be able to again.