Northern Ireland profile

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II

Prime minister: David Cameron

Secretary of state for Northern Ireland: Owen Paterson

First minister of NI Assembly: Peter Robinson

Deputy first minister of NI Assembly: Martin McGuinness

First Minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson (r) and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness (l) Peter Robinson (r) and Martin McGuinness (l) work in a partnership once seen as unthinkable

The Good Friday Agreement provides for the administration of Northern Ireland by an elected assembly and executive with ministerial posts distributed according to party strength.

The British government's Northern Ireland Office, headed by the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, oversees constitutional and security matters. It deals with economic and social affairs when the Northern Ireland Executive is not operating.

Northern Ireland returns 18 members to the British parliament.

Since 2007 power in the Northern Ireland Executive has been shared between two parties traditionally considered it be on the more extreme wings of Unionism and Republicanism - the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein - while the hitherto more dominant and more moderate Ulster Unionists and SDLP have been marginalised at the polls.

The DUP's Peter Robinson succeeded veteran leader Ian Paisley as first minister, with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness serving as deputy first minister and de facto co-leader of the Executive.

The Rev Paisley, a firebrand Protestant minister, and Mr McGuinness, a former leader of the Provisional IRA, developed a surprising rapport. Mr Robinson, a long-time party worker rather than street campaigner, has continued to work with Mr McGuinness, although tensions remain in this unlikely marriage of convenience.

Mr Robinson had to step down as first minister briefly in 2010 during an investigation into a financial scandal involving his wife Iris, who was also a member of the Assembly and the British Parliament.

He was cleared of wrongdoing, and went on to complete the delicate process of devolving police and justice powers to the Executive. The DUP and Sinn Fein both saw their positions improve at the expense of other parties at the 2011 Assembly elections, and the coalition seems set to continue.

More Europe stories

RSS

Features

  • A painting of the White House on fire by Tom FreemanFinders keepers

    The odd objects looted by the British from Washington in 1814


  • Chris and Regina Catrambone with their daughter Maria LuisaSOS

    The millionaires who rescue people at sea


  • Plane7 days quiz

    What unusual offence got a Frenchman thrown off a plane?


  • Children testing a bridge at a model-making summer school in Crawley, West SussexSeeding science Watch

    The retired professor who turned village children into engineers


  • Krouwa Erick, the doctor in Sipilou town at the border of Ivory Coast and Guinea - 27 August 2014Bad trip

    The Ebola journey no-one in Ivory Coast wants to take


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.