The Protestant and Catholic leaders of Northern Ireland have launched a new power sharing assembly, in an historic move to end decades of violence. In Stormont, near Belfast, Protestant cleric Ian Paisley and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness have been sworn in as the heads of a devolved government.
Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, emphasised the importance of the agreement. “From the depths of my heart I can say to you today that I believe Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace, a time when hate will no longer rule. How good it will be to be part of a wonderful healing in this province.”
Sein Finn’s Gerry Adams watched on as his colleague McGuinness spoke of a tough but peaceful future. “We must overcome the difficulties which we face in order to achieve our goals and seize the opportunities that now exist. This and future generations expect and deserve no less from us.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern attended the ceremony, which sees Northern Ireland take control of its own affairs. Blair, who is due to step down as Prime Minister soon, views peace in Northern Ireland as one of the legacies of his premiership. 1998’s Good Friday Agreement originally paved the way for devolution but the Assembly was suspended in 2002 following suspicions of spying.
The corridor of power returns to the province as Paisley becomes first minister of the new government, with McGuinness his deputy. The fresh agreement on March 26 allows the Assembly to recommence and it appears the parties have made a good start to their partnership.