- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

12:58 p.m.

BELFAST — Protestant firebrand Ian Paisley and IRA veteran Martin McGuinness formed a long-unthinkable alliance today as Northern Ireland power-sharing went from dream to reality — and all sides expressed hope that bloodshed over this British territory would never return.

Mr. Paisley, who spent decades refusing to cooperate with Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority, conceded he had often refused to budge in years past but was ready now. He lauded the Irish Republican Army’s moves to renounce violence and disarm, and Sinn Fein’s decision to cooperate with the province’s mostly Protestant police as genuine.

“From the depths of my heart, I believe Northern Ireland has come to a time of peace, a time when hate will no longer rule. How good it will be to be part of a wonderful healing in this province,” Mr. Paisley said.

Today’s speedy, trouble-free formation of a 12-member administration jointly led by Mr. Paisley and Mr. McGuinness heralded an astonishing new era for Northern Ireland following decades of violence and political stalemate that left 3,700 dead.

Mr. Paisley, 81, affirmed an oath pledging to cooperate with Catholics and the government of the neighboring Republic of Ireland — moves that the fire-and-brimstone evangelist had long denounced as surrender.

Mr. McGuinness, 56, Sinn Fein deputy leader, accepted the post of deputy first minister, which despite its title carries the same power as Mr. Paisley’s post of first minister.

As part of the same oath of office, Mr. McGuinness pledged to support the police and British courts — a position Sinn Fein refused for decades to accept.

Mr. Paisley’s Democratic Unionists took five Cabinet positions, Sinn Fein four, while the moderate Protestants of the Ulster Unionists received two and the moderate Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labor Party just one. Positions were allocated on the basis of each party’s strength in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Afterward, assembly members from all parties mingled with a jubilant crowd of dignitaries and well-wishers in the grand foyer of Stormont Parliamentary Building.

The Bush administration was represented by its newly appointed envoy for Northern Ireland affairs, State Department official Paula Dobriansky.

Much more attention was paid to two Kennedys: Sen. Ted Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and his sister, former Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith. She mingled in the crowd alongside Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams — whose international isolation ended in 1994 when she persuaded President Clinton to grant him a U.S. visa, defying British policy at the time.

The audience was treated to exceptionally conciliatory speeches by Mr. Paisley and Mr. McGuinness as well as the British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, whose close cooperation since 1997 has underpinned the entire peace process.

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