Northern Ireland Starts Home Rule
Northern Ireland took control of its domestic affairs today, with the swearing in of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuiness.
Northern Ireland’s Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders, arch-foes during decades of sectarian conflict, were sworn in to run a new power-sharing, home-rule government on Tuesday. Hardline Protestant cleric Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness took the pledge of office as first minister and deputy respectively. They will lead the government in the British province that has been battling to cement political stability since a 1998 peace accord that largely ended 30 years of conflict that killed 3,600 people.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who have guided the Northern Ireland peace process for the past decade, will watch the swearing-in ceremony. Blair, who plans to stand down as prime minister soon, sees the latest power-sharing deal between the Protestant majority and Catholic minority as one of the main achievements of his 10 years in power after previous deals proved short-lived.
The Northern Ireland executive will have power over local affairs but London retains sovereignty over the province.
The main Protestant and Catholic groups, Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein, political ally of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrilla group, reached agreement on March 26 to share power after years of deadlock.
It has been a strange role reversal for the 80-year-old Paisley who has been an outspoken defender of Northern Ireland’s British links and until recently refused to talk to Sinn Fein, which he viewed as indistinguishable from the IRA that waged a bloody 30-year campaign against British rule. McGuinness, a former member of the IRA, and Sinn Fein want to see the province united with the Irish Republic to the south.
Given that the Republic of Ireland was established as a sovereign state in 1921, with mostly-Protestant Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK, I have never had much sympathy for Sinn Fein’s cause. Still, a permanent end to what the Brits stoically call The Troubles would be welcome, indeed.