Northern Ireland has home rule returned

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

After four years, the suspended Northern Ireland Assembly has taken over the direct governing of the part of the United Kingdom that since Ireland's independence in 1922 has been controversially disputed.

The Assembly, which was established as part of 1998's Good Friday Agreement, was suspended in 2002 over allegations of Republican spying. During that time the entire province was ruled directly from London. Four years ago, few could have expected that Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley, the preacher known for the longest time in Northern Ireland politics as "Dr. No" and Sinn Féin deputy leader Martin McGuinness, who at one time was an IRA commander, would be sharing power together. However, with the addition of the Saint Andrews Agreement to which both Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed, this became a reality.

Ian Paisley will take his post as First Minister of Northern Ireland and Martin McGuinness will serve as his deputy. The DUP receives four cabinet ministers which includes the deputy leader of the party, Peter Robinson, becoming the head of the Department of Finance and Personnel. Sinn Féin gets three. Meanwhile, the other, less-powerful unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party receives two which includes UUP leader, Sir Reg Empey heading up the Department for Employment and Learning. Northern Ireland's other mainstream nationalist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party will head the Department for Social Development.

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Cquote1.svg I believe we're starting on a road which will bring us back to peace and to prosperity. Cquote2.svg

—Ian Paisley, First Minister of Northern Ireland

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today's events could "make history anew" and to "escape the heavy chains of history". Blair said, "Look back and we see centuries pock-marked by conflict, hardship, even hatred, among the people of these islands."

Blair's predecessor, Sir John Major said "The sight of people that were once totally antagonistic to one another sitting down to plan the future of Northern Ireland is very attractive," adding "I always believed from the outset that it was possible but that it would be difficult and that it would take a long time."

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern thanked his British counterpart saying "For 10 tough years, he has spent more times dealing with the issues of the island of Ireland than any person ever could have asked any other person to do."

Mary McAleese, the President of Ireland said, "It truly is an extraordinary day in the history of Northern Ireland, the island of Ireland and indeed of relations between Ireland and Britain. You carry the hopes of everybody as you take forward now the mandate you have been given by the people."

Ian Paisley said of today's events "I believe we're starting on a road which will bring us back to peace and to prosperity."

His new deputy, McGuiness said that they've already taken joint decisions but in the context of not being in power. He said, "All of that is going to change in the next couple of hours, and by midday today, we're going to be in charge, and we're going to be charged with the responsibility of governing in the interests of the people," adding, "I think we do so in the belief and the sure knowledge that we have the overwhelming support of all of the people of Ireland for what we're about to do."

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said, "I think what today proves is that dialogue and perseverance and tenacity and persistence can bring about results." He thanked everyone who helped make today possible and added, "It's a good day for Ireland, it's a good day for all of the people of this island."

Sir Reg Empey stated "The mission of the Ulster Unionist Party in the months and years ahead, as we rebuild and reform, is to demonstrate that unionism and politics in general is not about a sectarian power-grab."

Empey's predecessor, Lord David Trimble who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in bringing to peace Northern Ireland with John Hume, the former leader of SDLP said, " I see it as being the culmination, the final implementation of the agreement that was made on Good Friday in 1998."

Mark Durkan, the leader of the SDLP mentioned "What today shows is that when finally you have a government setting a deadline and setting terms and keeping to them, you can get somewhere," stating that Sinn Féin had underwritten on decommissioning while the DUP had underwritten on power-sharing. He also added that "It actually took people like the McCartney sisters to show governments how to set terms and hold terms in which the IRA had to move," in reference to the sisters of Robert McCartney, a Catholic man murdered by the Provisional IRA last year over what was a pub fight.

Cquote1.svg I don’t want my grandchildren to go through what I went through. Cquote2.svg

—Joan McCoubrey, Catholic resident of Belfast

David Ford, leader of the cross-communal Alliance Party said "We are here to make devolution work now, the DUP and Sinn Féin must convince local people that they can work together; much progress has been made but the real work only begins now."

Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy, who was in Belfast for the event said "A brighter day has dawned for the people of Northern Ireland, and it would not have been possible without the commitment and determination by all of Northern Ireland's political leaders to find a new way forward," and that "each of them is a profile in courage for our time and all time. Kennedy also said, "Northern Ireland has shown the world that peace is possible, even in the face of tragic history," he stated after attending ceremonies with the American delegation.

President of the United States George W. Bush released a statement saying "I commend the Assembly for your dedication to Northern Ireland and I applaud the people of this region for your desire to overcome a history of violence and division." He added that he commended Blair and Ahern for their leadership and vision, and that The United States will continue to support your efforts to further advance the peace process. Together we can build a more hopeful future for all."

70 year-old retiree Joan McCoubrey of Belfast, a Catholic who lost one of her brothers in 1971 said, "I don’t want my grandchildren to go through what I went through."

However, 48 year-old Protestant homemaker Deborah Harbinson of Belfast said "There are still a lot of problems left to be tackled, there’s still hidden violence and division and few job opportunities."

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