Peace broke out in Northern Ireland yesterday.
In a historic compromise that can be compared to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the loyalist lamb sat down with the republican lion and agreed to share power with each other in a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly from 8 May.
The agreement is the culmination of 10 years of protracted peacemaking by British prime minister Tony Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern.
The agreement came in the first floor members’ dining room at the Stormont Parliament building in Belfast. The delegations sat at a diamond-shaped table, with arch-enemies Ian Paisley, 80, and Gerry Adams, 58, sharing an apex.
The atmosphere was described as “cordial” and “constructive”. The Sinn Féin leader wore an Easter lily badge, commemorating those who died in the 1916 uprising. There was no handshake.
Democratic Unionist Party leader Paisley said:
We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children. In looking to that future, we must never forget those who have suffered during the dark period from which we are, please God, now emerging.
We owe it to them to craft the best possible future.
Sein Fein president Adams said Monday’s accord “marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island.”
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“The relationships between the people of this island have been marred by centuries of discord, conflict, hurt and tragedy. In particular, this has been the sad history of orange and green,” Adams said, using the local labels for the British Protestant and Irish Roman Catholic sides in Northern Ireland, which has a population of 1.7 million.
The conflict over Northern Ireland has claimed more than 3,600 lives since the 1960s – when Adams was an up-and-coming IRA member from Catholic west Belfast and Paisley the province’s most infamous opponent of a Catholic civil rights movement.
Emergency legislation was introduced in the Commons yesterday to enable a smooth transition.
Water bills, due to be sent out for the first time to consumers in Northern Ireland, will be delayed until the devolved administration can deal with the controversial issue.