The government of Northern Ireland took the oath, which included twelve ministers, both Protestants and Catholics.
The restoration of executive power in Ulster after five years puts an end to the long-standing Northern Irish conflict. This will allow British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who for all ten years of his premiership was the main sponsor of the peace settlement in Ulster, to leave on a positive note.
“If someone had told me earlier that I would be taking this oath here today, I would have found it absolutely incredible,” said the 81—year-old leader of the Northern Ireland Protestant Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Ian Paisley. Last Tuesday, this man, who earned the nickname Mr. No thanks to his uncompromising attitude, officially took office as the first minister of the Northern Irish cabinet. His deputy was the second number on the list of the Catholic Republican Party “Sinn Fein”, 56-year-old Martin McGuinness, a former fighter of the Irish Republican Army, who served six months in prison for illegal possession of weapons and was once included in the list of persons who were banned from entering British territory.
From now on, these two people, who have been on opposite sides of the barricades for many years, who did not meet in person for reasons of principle and refrained from shaking hands even during the current ceremony, will jointly lead the government. “This day was like one of the weddings in the style of Hugh Grant’s character, when tension is hidden behind the visible fun of the guests. Families on both sides have always hated each other, but Ian and Martin courageously tried to show that everything would be fine. And everyone was forced to wish the young people happiness,” the British newspaper The Guardian described the atmosphere at the ceremony yesterday.
Recall that the agreement on the joint rule of Catholics and Protestants was fixed by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and confirmed by the agreement in St. Andrews, concluded by the parties last autumn. As part of these agreements, parliamentary elections were held in Ulster at the beginning of March — the Northern Ireland Assembly, which then elected members of the new government. According to the layout in Stormont (parliament), seats in the government were also distributed: The Unionists got five ministerial portfolios, Sinn Fein secured four, the rest of the departments went to representatives of two other moderate parties representing Catholics and Protestants.
The cabinet included people with a rich past. For example, Peter Robinson, the deputy and likely successor of the protestant leader, who was arrested in 1985 for organizing an illegal protest and beating police officers, became the head of the finance department. The biography of Sinn Fein minister Gerry Calley has even more impressive details: 13 years in prison for involvement in a terrorist attack in London more than a quarter of a century ago, a 205-day hunger strike and participation in the largest escape from a Belfast prison in Europe since World War II. However, following the voluntary disarmament of the IRA, the combat wing of Sinn Fein, and the recognition by Catholics of the new Ulster police, which was a stumbling block in the relations between the two communities, the armed struggle and the belligerent attitude of politicians finally faded into the past. The final chord in the reconciliation process was played last week when Protestants from the Ulster Volunteer Forces announced their rejection of military methods of struggle.
For most, the long-awaited formation of the Ulster government with the participation of Catholics and Protestants was, without exaggeration, a historic event that put a long-awaited end to more than 30 years of bloody conflict in the region. It undoubtedly turned out to be historic for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who made a lot of efforts to peacefully resolve the situation in Ulster. “Northern Ireland was synonymous with conflict. People believed that it could not be overcome, and sometimes even that it should not be solved and that the proposed compromises take too ugly forms,” said Mr Blair, who watched the Ulster government’s swearing—in ceremony in the Stormont VIP lounge.— However, in the end, the conflict came to an end. And a lesson can be learned from this when solving conflicts everywhere.”
A happy ending in Ulster will allow Tony Blair to triumphantly resign as Prime minister and leader of the Labour Party. It was for this purpose that he delayed announcing the exact date of his resignation, promising last week to announce the day of his departure this week (see Kommersant for May 3). However, the country’s participation in the Iraq war, which the UK entered at the prime minister’s suggestion, in the eyes of most Britons, the role of Blair as a peacemaker has long been crossed out, as the participants of a small anti-Iraq rally near the walls of Stormont in Belfast tried to remind him again.
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