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First Minister

The term First Minister is the head of the local administration in the home rule governments of Northern Ireland and Scotland created by devolution in the 1990s.

Under the system of devotion, two regional parliaments and one regional assembly were created for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales respectively. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, home rule involves the provision of a single chamber parliament from which an executive or cabinet is chosen. The Executive is presided over by the First Minister, who is directly elected by the Legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland, while in the case of Scotland he is selected in a vote of the Scottish Parliament and then appointed by the Queen. In one other difference, the office of First Minister in Northern Ireland is in effect two offices; the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, this dyarchy created to enable the leaders of the main unionist and nationalist parties to work together as a team jointly representing both communities. (Until 2002*, the First Minister's post was held by David Trimble leader of the unionist Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), while the Deputy First Minister's post was held by Mark Durkan[?], the leader of the nationalist Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP).) In contrast, there is no Deputy First Minister in Scotland.

The title First Secretary was given to the less powerful home rule administration in Wales under the Government of Wales Act[?] 1998. Instead of a full local parliament, Wales was given a less powerful assembly. While it does have a committee for executive purposes, unlike the equivalent bodies in Northern Ireland, it is not a cabinet, but a committee of the Assembly. Similarly, the First Secretary is far less powerful than the other First Ministers. After some initial confusion, the title First Secretary seems de facto to have been changed to First Minister also, but without any upgrading in power.

The title first minister may be used to refer to the political leader of a non-independent country. In Germany, the first minister in the federal states is known as the Minister-President[?].


  • The Northern Ireland Executive Committee and the Assembly were both suspended by the British Government and 'direct rule' from London reinstated temporarily in late 2002 due to a controversy over the failure of the Provisional IRA, the armed wing of one of the parties with seats in the Executive, Sinn Féin to disarm fully within the original timespan set down in the Belfast Agreement. While Sinn Féin argued that the process of disarming was taking place, and that the Provisional IRA was on ceasefire, this stance was challenged by the Ulster Unionist Party, the SDLP, and the British and Irish governments, who indicated that five years on from the signing of the Agreement, they wished not merely to see disarmament of the Provisional IRA, but a complete disbandment, with a confirmation that the 'war is over'. Inter-party and inter-governmental negotiations began to take place in early 2003 to try to solve the stalemate, with a view to reinstating both the Assembly and the Executive in time for the election of a new Assembly, which is due in May, 2003

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