N. Ireland forms government

In important step, 10 are nominated to multiparty Cabinet

Factions to work together

Power-sharing deal is designed to bring about a lasting peace

November 30, 1999|By Bill Glauber, | Bill Glauber,,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Old foes overcame old grievances yesterday as Northern Ireland's leading politicians forged a power-sharing government designed to end a generation of bloodletting.

The nomination of 10 candidates to Cabinet posts marked another important milestone in the step-by-step process designed to bring a lasting peace to the British province.

For the first time since 1974, Northern Ireland is poised to gain political powers from the British Parliament in London and will rule itself through a 108-member local Assembly composed of majority Protestants and minority Roman Catholics -- groups that have been at war for generations.

The meanest of the fighters, terrorists who have brought more than 3,200 deaths to this troubled land in 30 years, have not yet handed in their weapons. But politicians from across a political and religious divide are now willing to sit together in a paneled legislative chamber inside the imposing Stormont Castle, which sits atop a hill overlooking the old port city.

"This is the first time in our history that representatives of all sections of our people will be working together in government," said John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party. "It will transform our society and replace the politics and violence of the past."

After months of delay following the signing of the Good Friday accord in 1998, Northern Ireland's peace process is now set to move this week at lightning speed in a series of interlocking measures.

By Thursday, Britain's Parliament is to "devolve" power to the government of Northern Ireland, though London will continue to control taxation and security issues. The southern Irish republic is to rescind its constitutional claim to the six counties of Northern Ireland. The Irish Republican Army is to announce an emissary to deal with Gen. John de Chastelain, a Canadian assigned to oversee the disarming of the terrorists.

Never before have all the strands of Northern Ireland political life been contained in one legislative body housing career politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders and former guerrillas. They tried to form their own government last July, but failed miserably, the breakup leading to a stalemate that could only be unlocked by a painstaking 11-week mediation led by former Sen. George J. Mitchell of Maine.

Now on track, the peace process was symbolized by a nominating process in which once-implacable foes found themselves accepting government posts during a 45-minute ceremony that was like a pro football draft of college players. One by one, the leading parties nominated their candidates, with the Ulster Unionists, the leading Protestant party, and the Social Democratic and Labor Party, the leading Catholic party, receiving three posts each.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republic Army, and the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party, received two posts each.

The result showed that the once unthinkable could become possible, as the Cabinet nominees included Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, reputedly a one-time IRA guerrilla leader, appointed minister-designate for education, and Nigel Dodds of the Democratic Unionists, survivor of a terrorist attack, named to the Social Development post.

For three Protestant politicians, the naming of McGuinness to the education post was more

than they could stand. They walked out, while some in the galleries hissed the nomination.

"I will not sit for this obscenity. I am leaving," said Cedric Wilson of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

The Rev. Ian Paisley, the fundamentalist preacher and old lion of the pro-British unionists, made a spirited parliamentary stand to block the Assembly's business during three hours of procedural wrangling. First, he led an unsuccessful fight against the reappointment of the SDLP's Seamus Mallon as first minister of the Assembly. Mallon, who quit the post in July, was aided when Britain's Northern Ireland secretary, Peter Mandelson, ordered a change in the voting procedures, a move that angered those opposed to the Good Friday accord.

Then, Paisley tried to introduce a measure to block Sinn Fein from holding offices for a year. But he lacked the 30 signatures needed to bring the motion to the floor. In the end, with a shrug, he was reduced to leading a symbolic last stand, asking 29 signatories to rise. Only 27 were seen to rise.

Still, when it came time to form the Cabinet, Paisley and the Democratic Unionists participated.

In the most dramatic moment,

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, his shirt sleeves rolled up, addressed Paisley, saying: "Unionists have nothing to fear from sharing power with Irish republicans. Our future is banded together."

Paisley turned from Adams' gaze.

The early debate was at times acrimonious, with name calling and the recollection of old terrorist outrages.

At one point, Peter Robinson of the Democratic Unionists sarcastically asked the chair for a clarification on decorum. "If we believe

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