Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

World watches as power-sharing returns

Stormont

The world watched today as Northern Ireland entered a new era of governance after almost five years of political stalemate and decades of turbulence.

Images which would once have been unthinkable were being broadcast across the globe from the grounds of Stormont.

Early this afternoon new First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were due to host their first joint official reception for representatives of almost every section of the community.

And, immediately after their election, they were set to invite Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern into their offices for a cup of tea.

The DUP and Sinn Fein veterans have had remarkable journeys over more than four decades to arrive to share power together today.

Mr Paisley said he believed today represented a "new beginning" and urged the people of Northern Ireland to "rise to the challenge" .

Arriving at Stormont, he said he believed the province was headed back along a road bringing peace and prosperity.

Mr McGuinness also said today he believed the new administration would mark a "fundamental change of approach".

Speaking just outside the entrance doors to Stormont, the senior Sinn Fein negotiator said he was increasingly confident that it was going to work.

The Assembly was also poised to appoint a power-sharing Executive dominated by parties which have long been sworn enemies and must now attempt to create a new stability and chart the way forward for the province.

From polar ends of the province's politicaI spectrum, Mr Paisley and Mr McGuinness were due to take their first formal step to set aside decades of enmity and vow to head up the administration.

Watched by peace process premiers Blair and Ahern, the DUP firebrand and former IRA second-in-command were due to take their pledges of office to work their co-equal office and support law and order.

The inaugural meeting of the new fully functioning Assembly - the first since October of 2002 - will then see the appointment of the 12 ministers and junior ministers who will make up the new team.

The historic proceedings were due to be delayed, however, as MLAs adjourned as a mark of respect to DUP East Antrim Assembly member, George Dawson, who died yesterday following a short illness.

Then the business of appointing a new Speaker - expected to be DUP member William Hay - as well as three deputies, will come first.

In effect the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, revised by the St Andrews blueprint and negotiations between the parties, are being given another chance.

But unlike the last devolved administration, when the DUP boycotted Executive meetings, all four parties in the Executive are committed to operating the institutions.

Mr Blair, in one of his last major acts before he announces the date of his long-anticipated departure, was due to this afternoon underline the Governments' belief that the deal forged between the former extremist parties can stick.

A number of VIP guests, including leading United States senator Ted Kennedy, were due to be in the public gallery to witness today's swearing-in ceremony.

And there was a family touch, too, with new First Minister's wife Baroness Paisley and Mr McGuinness's mother Peggy also expected to attend.

Northern Ireland's original First and Deputy First Ministers, David (now Lord) Trimble and Seamus Mallon were not due to be present at a reception for around 300 guests, however.

Neither the former First Minister nor Deputy First Minister had been specially invited.

Mr Mallon said he had been offered a ticket from the SDLP's allocation but did not regard that as an invitation.

The Ulster Unionist Party said Lord Trimble would have been unable to attend in any event.

There was also due to be a protest against the war in Iraq as the Belfast Anti-War Movement gathered to demonstrate against the presence of Mr Blair.

A record number of media organisations encamped in the area above Lord Carson's statue at the front of Parliament Buildings were beaming the unprecedented series of photo-opportunities across the world.

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