Catholics, Protestants share power in N Ireland

Protestant firebrand Dr Ian Paisley is Northern Ireland's new First Minister with former militant Catholic Martin McGuinness his deputy as self-rule is finally restored in the long-troubled region.

Dr Paisley said there was now a real chance for "lasting peace", the Brisbane Times reports.

"Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace. A time when hate will no longer rule," said the firebrand clergyman of the Democratic Unionists (DUP). "How good it will be to be part of a wonderful healing in this province."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who hopes the Northern Ireland deal will form a key part of his legacy as he prepares to stand down, said the "chains of history" were being cast off.

"Look back and we see centuries pockmarked by conflict, hardship, even hatred among the peoples of these islands," he said. "Look forward today and we see the chance at last to escape those heavy chains of history."

London and Dublin hope the autonomous administration will bring permanent peace and stability to Northern Ireland, a British-ruled province where more than 3,000 people have been killed in sectarian violence since the late 1960s.

Sinn Fein, backed by the militant Irish Republican Army (IRA), has for decades pressed for Northern Ireland to be re-united with the Irish Republic, while unionists insist the province remain a part of the United Kingdom.

The violence largely ended after the 1998 Good Friday peace deal, but efforts for a permanent settlement stalled when power-sharing was suspended in October 2002 over charges that the Catholic nationalists were spying.

Those efforts were revived by Blair and Ahern last November in the Scottish town of Saint Andrews, where a deal was brokered to restart power-sharing in March.

The real breakthrough came on 26 March, when Paisley and Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams finally agreed to share power, albeit with a six-week delay, taking them to Tuesday's historic inauguration.

Under the power-sharing deal, the DUP will hold four ministries, Sinn Fein three, the Ulster Unionists (UUP - moderate Protestant conservatives) two, and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP - Catholic, moderate) one.

'New dawn' for Northern Ireland as former foes share power (Brisbane Times, 9/5/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sinn Fein
Ian Paisley

Catholic and Protestant leaders welcome Irish accord (CathNews, 28/3/07)

9 May 2007