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Thread: Joint Sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

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    Joint Sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

    Will power-sharing between pro-British Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland eventually lead to joint sovereignty by Britain and Ireland?

    Northern Ireland takes step towards power-sharing

    Paul Hoskins | Belfast, United Kingdom

    08 March 2007 05:28

    Northern Ireland took a step towards restoring a government shared between Protestants and Catholics as it counted votes on Thursday from an election for a new provincial assembly.

    A strong showing for the main parties on both sides of the divide at Wednesday's ballot could strengthen prospects for a return to sharing power between pro-British Protestants and Catholics seeking a united Ireland.

    Main parties from both sides voiced optimism over the results.

    Britain has threatened to impose indefinite direct rule, with help from Dublin, if Northern Ireland's parties do not meet a deadline of March 26 for agreeing on a government.

    Attempts at transferring powers to Belfast have foundered repeatedly since a peace deal in 1998 largely ended a conflict in which 3 600 people were killed. The last 108-member assembly did not even sit for a full day after it was elected in 2003.

    But parties that were at the political extremes during the violence show increasing signs of readiness to share power.

    Fundamentalist preacher Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the biggest Protestant grouping, told reporters at the vote-counting centre in his Ballymena heartland that his party appeared to have increased its share of the vote.

    "The tide is running our way," said Paisley, who has not said he is ready to sit down with Sinn Fein, but has left the door open -- to the dismay of more hard-line rivals.

    Martin McGuinness, chief negotiator of nationalist Sinn Fein, which is allied to the Irish Republican Army (IRA), said he believed his party had made "significant gains".

    "For all politicians on the doorstep I think the message has been very clear -- It's time to stop the messing about," said McGuinness. "There has to be power sharing and I think Ian Paisley knows that.

    Blair and Ahern hopeful

    Agreement would also suit British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who wants a political settlement before he steps down this year, and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who plans to call a parliamentary election this year.

    The two leaders have worked together on a political solution for Northern Ireland for almost a decade.

    Election results will start coming in on Thursday afternoon, although recounts may push some declarations into Friday.

    The share of the vote is not expected to change much from British parliamentary elections in 2005 when the Democratic Unionist Party scored 34% and Sinn Fein polled 24%.

    The last power-sharing administration, between the more moderate parties, fell apart five years ago and London resumed direct rule.

    Both main parties face dissidents within their own constituencies who accuse them of betraying their principles.

    Despite IRA disarmament in 2005, Paisley's harder-line rivals say that by leaving the door open to power-sharing he has broken a long-time pledge never to "share power with terrorists".

    Sinn Fein faces challenges by several former supporters, who say the party was wrong to vote recently to support police and courts dominated by the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. -- Reuters
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    Re: Joint sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

    Agree to power-sharing, Blair tells N Ireland

    Paul Hoskins | Belfast, United Kingdom

    09 March 2007 05:13

    Britain and Ireland urged Northern Ireland's politicians on Friday to agree to a power-sharing government after assembly elections in the province or face continued direct rule from London.

    The vote, widely viewed as a test of support for joint rule, was dominated by the Protestant pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Catholic Sinn Fein, long time foes who favour reviving local government in theory but do not talk to each other.

    With 78 of 108 seats decided from Wednesday's provincial assembly election, firebrand preacher Ian Paisley's DUP won 27 seats and Sinn Fein, allied to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and wanting union with the southern Republic of Ireland, secured 24 seats. Four other parties shared 27 seats.

    "The basis upon which the election was called and fought was that people would then go into devolved government," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair after meeting Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern in Brussels.

    "The mandate that has been given to the parties from people in Northern Ireland is to get on and do the business."

    The two leaders repeated the threat to impose indefinite direct rule from London, with help from Dublin, if the parties fail to agree on a government by March 26.

    Blair and Ahern have tried for nearly a decade to reach a lasting political settlement, but have been repeatedly stymied.

    A 1998 peace deal largely ended three decades of violence in which 3 600 people were killed.

    Open door

    British Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain was meeting DUP and Sinn Fein officials separately on Friday to discuss their next moves.

    Paisley has left the door open to power-sharing, to the dismay of some former supporters, but emphasises he must first be convinced of Sinn Fein's commitment to peace. He said this week it had to "turn from its evil ways."

    Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams repeated on Friday that he was ready for power-sharing and said there was a need to be "tolerant and patient" with Paisley's party.

    "If they end up in the institutions, as we think they will with the rest of us, then we forgive them for their colourful language," he said.

    There was little support in the election for radicals who accuse Sinn Fein of betraying the IRA's three-decade fight against British rule, or for those unionists who believe there should be no talks with anyone linked to the IRA.

    Also sidelined were more moderate parties whose own bid at power-sharing collapsed five years ago, leaving political paralysis. The last assembly never sat for a full day after it was elected in 2003.

    Blair would like an agreement before he steps down this year. It could also suit Ahern, as he faces re-election. -- Reuters
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    Re: Joint sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

    Blair welcomes N Ireland power-sharing deal

    Paul Hoskins | Belfast, United Kingdom

    26 March 2007 02:27

    British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed a power-sharing deal reached on Monday by Northern Ireland's main Protestant and Catholic political parties.

    "This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland ... In a sense everything we've done in the last 10 years has been a preparation for this moment," he said.

    "The people of Northern Ireland have ... said: 'We want peace and power-sharing and people working together', and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said: 'We will deliver what the people want'," he said.

    Northern Ireland's main Protestant and Catholic parties agreed on Monday to start sharing power on May 8 after their leaders put aside decades of hostility to hold an historic first meeting.

    Hard-line Protestant cleric Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), sat side-by-side with Gerry Adams, head of the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein, to announce the deal.

    "Today we've agreed with Sinn Fein that this date will be Tuesday May 8 2007," Paisley said after the meeting at the Northern Ireland Assembly's imposing building in Belfast. "I believe we can lay the foundations for a better, peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of Northern Ireland," Paisley said.

    Adams welcomed the deal as marking "the beginning of a new era of politics on this island".

    Britain and Ireland have been pushing Northern Ireland's feuding parties for years to agree to share power, seeing it as a crucial step towards cementing peace in a province that has been riven by years of violence.

    The DUP wants to maintain Northern Ireland's links with Britain while Sinn Fein's ultimate aim is a united Ireland.

    The British government had told both sides they must start jointly running Northern Ireland's day-to-day affairs on Monday or accept indefinite direct rule from London. But Paisley's DUP said on Saturday it wanted a delay until May.

    UK could accept delay

    Britain has indicated it could accept a delay if all the Northern Irish parties agreed.

    Paisley has always refused to talk to Adams because of Sinn Fein's alliance with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) guerrilla group, which was responsible for nearly half of the 3 600 killings during 30 years of sectarian conflict in the province. But on Monday, Adams and Paisley sat within a few feet of each other around a table. There was no public handshake.

    At the start of the meeting, about 10 Sinn Fein members, including Adams, walked up the building's grand staircase and into the members' dining room where Paisley was waiting, a Reuters reporter said.

    Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said earlier that if the meeting between Paisley and Adams went ahead it would be "quite extraordinary".

    In the past Paisley has branded rivals from the province's minority Catholic community terrorists. A peace deal nearly a decade ago has largely stemmed decades of sectarian bloodshed.

    If no deal had been reached on Monday, the Irish government would have been given a greater role in Northern Ireland's affairs, which the DUP would find unpalatable.

    The assembly was set up under 1998's Good Friday peace agreement. It was suspended in 2002 amid allegations of an IRA spy ring operating in the building.

    Paisley opposed the 1998 pact and has rejected earlier power-sharing attempts. The IRA met Paisley's central demand in 2005 when it pledged to disarm and pursue its aim of a united Ireland peacefully. -- Reuters
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    Re: Joint sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

    Hopes rise for N Ireland self-rule deal

    Eammon Mallie | Belfast, United Kingdom

    26 March 2007 11:42

    The prospect of a first-ever meeting between rival Northern Irish leaders on Monday raised hopes for a last-ditch power-sharing deal in the province, albeit delayed, hours before a crunch deadline.

    Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain admitted the midnight Monday deadline [local time] could slip by a few weeks, if a deal was struck between rival Catholic- and Protestant-backed leaders Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley.

    But Hain, who signed an order at the weekend restoring power to Belfast despite the last-minute stand-off, also reiterated that Britain is ready to return power to London if there is no deal.

    On Saturday Paisley's Democratic Unionists (DUP), who favour remaining part of Britain, agreed to form an executive with Adams's Sinn Fein -- but they want to delay devolution by six weeks, until May, to overcome outstanding hurdles.

    On Monday Hain confirmed that Adams was expected to meet firebrand leader Paisley during the day for unprecedented talks likely to cover a possible date for restoring full power-sharing.

    "If the meeting between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams goes ahead then it is quite extraordinary ... If after the last 40 years and more they can talk, then anything and everything is possible," Hain told BBC's Radio Four.

    If the two men can strike a deal before the midnight deadline, "we are in entirely new territory, which makes the prospect of devolution and stable devolved government much more likely", he added.

    "I am not worried about a deadline going over a few weeks, if we have something that has never happened before," he added.

    On Sunday Hain signed an order restoring devolved powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, in which the DUP and Sinn Fein dominate after elections earlier this month, to allow the parties to try to form an executive.

    But the British minister warned on Monday that, if there is no deal, London remains ready to see power return to London.

    "If it doesn't happen today [Monday], then the dissolution follows at one minute past midnight or at least tomorrow," he said.

    Hain said at the weekend that Paisley had twice attempted to persuade him and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to introduce emergency legislation on Monday to implement the six-week delay.

    The DUP has refused to share power until Sinn Fein -- the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) -- accepts the rule of British law and supports the police force and the IRA renounces violence.

    If the two parties reach agreement before the deadline, Paisley is likely to become the province's first minister, with Sinn Fein chief negotiator Martin McGuinness his probable deputy.

    The Northern Ireland Assembly was created by the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement that largely brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence in the province.

    It has been suspended since October 2002 when allegations surfaced of a republican spy-ring operating at the assembly buildings, and Northern Ireland has been governed directly from London ever since. -- AFP
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    Re: Joint sovereignty for Northern Ireland?

    Opinion: A Historic Deal

    Opinion | 27.03.2007

    On Monday, leaders of Northern Ireland's major Protestant and Catholic parties announced a new deal to restore a dissolved parliament by May 8th. It was an historic moment, says DW's Irene Quaile-Kersken.

    Generations of people would have never thought it possible. Ian Paisley, the tough-minded leader of Northern Ireland's Protestants -- notorious for his uncompromising attitude and hate-filled tirades against Irish Catholics -- met for the first time ever in face-to-face talks with Gerry Adams. Adams is head of the Catholic-backed Sinn Fein party -- the political wing of the underground Irish Republican Army (IRA), which was once the epitome of violence and terrorism.

    Even after the Good Friday peace agreement in 1998 -- which aimed to form a lasting settlement following paramilitary ceasefires between the two groups and which ultimately saw the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the two never met personally.

    Now, the two groups are to share power in government with Paisley likely to become the province's first minister and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein chief negotiator and a former IRA commander, as his deputy.

    Unity after hostility

    One cannot underestimate the symbolic power and message this sends to the Irish people. Unity after decades of hostility? It is not without reason that the Protestant Paisley hailed the agreement as "the foundation for a better future" and Adams said the deal would ring in a "new era" in politics for Northern Ireland.

    There certainly are plenty of reasons for new attempts at government power-sharing. Democratic co-operation in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland is the long overdue, logical consequence of the ceasefire nine years ago.

    It also reflects the current political situation in the region: both groups are more or less equally powerful. The problems which must be solved, must be solved together. Employment, education and health schemes are all issues just waiting for a new government.

    Besides, in a region where for decades religious intolerance and hate have been instilled in people from a young age onward, one group would never trust a government "from the other side."

    British investments in power-sharing

    The British government was more than willing to invest a lot of money in brokering a power-sharing agreement. The province stands to gain some 35 billion pounds after the clinching of the deal. In addition, British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- on shaky ground due to his support of the Iraq war and the allegations of corruption within his Labour party -- is desperate for success in the few months before he leaves office.

    His designated successor Gordon Brown can be glad he will have one less domestic policy problem to deal with when he confronts the newly revived Conservatives once he takes up the post.

    As the European Union grows at a rapid pace, the conflict in Northern Ireland -- including the parliamentary stalemate -- is an anachronism.

    Religious and political tolerance, as well as constructive co-operation between the rivaling parties, are basic requirements for a thriving EU.

    Northern Ireland's old arch enemies have taken an important step. One can wish the leaders well in heading up the new government -- and endurance in the development of peaceful co-existence in a region known for decades only for its "conflict."

    Irene Quaile-Kersken is head of magazine programming and acting head of current affairs at Deutsche Welle Radio's English Service.
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