N. Ireland Self-Rule Starts with Loud Voice of Peace Direct British Rule Ends Tomorrow When Assembly Meets. Pro-Peace Parties Rule

By Kevin Rafter, | The Christian Science Monitor, June 3, 1998 | Go to article overview

N. Ireland Self-Rule Starts with Loud Voice of Peace Direct British Rule Ends Tomorrow When Assembly Meets. Pro-Peace Parties Rule


Kevin Rafter,, The Christian Science Monitor


Tomorrow, a newly elected assembly will choose Northern Ireland's first prime minister, ending 16 years of direct rule by London.

The choice, likely to be the pro-British David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), will open a new partnership government between the region's different communities.

A 108-seat assembly, elected last Thursday, includes 80 members who campaigned in support of April's peace accord, a sign of widespread public support to end decades of sectarian violence. But beyond the election and choice of leaders, the assembly may face a bumpy road in working out the details of self-rule and meeting the accord's provisions on handing over weapons and setting up links between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Since 1972, when the unionist-controlled parliament was abolished, the British government has made political decisions on all aspects of life in Northern Ireland. But now the region has a chance to "build a new society,' says John Hume, leader of the moderate nationalist Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP). The assembly members will have little time to savor their election victories. The controversial Protestant parade at Portadown is planned for July 5 - just four days after the assembly convenes. The parade has been the scene of violent standoffs between Protestants and Catholics over the past four years, as the parade route includes a Catholic area. Yesterday, a parade commission ordered march organizers to avoid the Catholic neighborhood. Still, Britain has beefed up its forces to prevent any violence. The issue of the march may affect the opening days of the new assembly, which will met at Stormont's Castle Building outside Belfast. After choosing a first minister, in effect a prime minister, the assembly will try to elect a deputy first minister. The winner is expected to be a senior member of the SDLP - either John Hume or Seamus Mallon. The region's historic tensions will be played out in the new democratic body according to the number of seats won by the winning political parties. On the pro-British side, Mr. Trimble's moderate UUP won 28 seats, while the hard-line Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by the Rev. Ian Paisley took 20 seats. On the pro-Ireland side, Mr. Hume's moderate SDLP won 24 seats, while Sinn Fein, which is the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, took 18.

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