A Leap for Self Rule in Belfast ; Northern Ireland Will Form a Long-Delayed Government This Week, But

By Alexander MacLeod, | The Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Leap for Self Rule in Belfast ; Northern Ireland Will Form a Long-Delayed Government This Week, But


Alexander MacLeod,, The Christian Science Monitor


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 Northern Ireland.

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 the doubt."

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. …

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