Historic power-sharing government in Northern Ireland


Belfast/London : Northern Ireland embarked on a new era Tuesday as Protestants and Catholics joined in government in an historic pact between former political arch enemies.

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Ian Paisley, leader of the main Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and Martin McGuinness, of nationalist republican Sinn Fein, were sworn in as leaders of a multi-party executive (cabinet) at Stormont Castle in Belfast.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the two men who worked tirelessly to bring the Northern Ireland peace process to a peaceful conclusion, were present at the ceremony.

Direct rule over Northern Ireland by the government in London ended officially at midnight, almost five years after the last devolved government in Belfast collapsed.

Tuesday's ceremony was seen as sealing the official end to 40 years of bitter conflict between Catholics and Protestants in the province, which has claimed more than 3,500 lives.

It is also seen as the conclusion of the peace process, begun with the signing of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement in April 1998.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said he was confident that this time the power-sharing agreement would stick.

"I don't think there is any way back. We really are at the dawn of a new democratic future," he said.

Paisley, 81, said he believed Northern Ireland was at "the start of the road to peace and prosperity."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said: "This is a good day for Ireland." He described the events as a "watershed among the steps forward towards a united Ireland."