The Northern Ireland peace process, stalled for months in a
dispute over the handover of paramilitary weapons, kicks into high
gear this week.
On Saturday, David Trimble persuaded the ruling council of his
pro-British Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), to form a power-sharing
government with Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish
Republican Army, before the IRA begins giving up its weapons. The
UUP, the largest party representing majority Protestants, had
previously insisted "no guns, no government."
While the compromise came with potentially troublesome strings
attached, it set in motion a series of moves for the province to
begin running its own affairs for the first time in 25 years.
Today, parties to the 1998 Good Friday peace accord will meet in
Belfast to nominate a 10-member power-sharing council.
Sinn Fein will receive two ministerial posts alongside the
UUP. Also taking part will be the radical pro-British Democratic
Unionist Party (DUP) and the moderate Social Democratic and Labour
Party (SDLP), the main party representing pro-Irish Catholics in
The two Sinn Fein representatives are expected to be Martin
McGuinness, the party's chief negotiator, and Bairbre de Brun, a
senior party member.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the British Parliament is to pass a bill
devolving power to Belfast, while the Irish parliament is to vote
formally to rescind its longstanding constitutional claim to
authority over Northern Ireland.
On Thursday, the Northern Ireland assembly will convene, with Mr.
Trimble as first minister. Under a compromise reached two weeks ago
in talks chaired by former US Sen. George Mitchell, who mediated the
Good Friday accord, the IRA is obligated "within hours" to name a go-
between for talks on the handover of arms and explosives with
Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, head of weapons decommissioning
for Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein sources say Mr. McGuinness has been
suggested as the go-between.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson, the top British
official in the province, yesterday told the BBC: "[Sinn Fein
President] Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are two forward-
looking politicians who have worked very hard to put in place this
political strategy, and I think they should be given the benefit of
Although the timetable looks straightforward, positions
entrenched by 30 years of sectarian and political violence that have
claimed some 3,600 lives will not disappear overnight. In 1974, a
cross-party administration fell apart as Protestants and Catholics
blamed each other for terrorist violence, and the British government
assumed direct control in Belfast. …