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Protestant leader, former IRA chief governing Northern Ireland together

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Northern Ireland's First Minister Ian Paisley and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness smiled Tuesday after being sworn in as ministers of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont Parliamentary Building in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
(Paul Faith ~ Associated Press)
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Bitter enemies from Northern Ireland's bloody past joined forces Tuesday atop a new Northern Ireland government, a once-unimaginable achievement that both sides pledged would consign decades of death and destruction to history.

The bombastic Protestant evangelist Ian Paisley, long known as "Dr. No" for his refusal to compromise with the Roman Catholic minority, formed an administration with Sinn Fein deputy leader Martin McGuinness, a veteran commander in the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which long dreamed of wiping Northern Ireland from the map.

Their long-polarized parties will jointly run a 12-member administration that took control of the territory's government departments from Britain. Their new shared agenda: improve hospitals, schools, roads and other services and formally cooperate with the neighboring Republic of Ireland.

Power-sharing was the central goal of the U.S.-brokered Good Friday accord of 1998, a pact rejected by Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party at the time because it included Sinn Fein. Britain and Ireland toiled to bring the factions together after 2003, when voters made them the dominant parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the foundation stone for cooperation.

Paisley's conversion to compromise became possible because the IRA finally convinced him it would no longer try to oust Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom by force. The IRA renounced violence and disarmed in 2005, has not been implicated in significant violence since, and this year agreed with its Sinn Fein allies to accept the authority of the Northern Ireland police.

Paisley's Democratic Unionists hold five Cabinet posts and Sinn Fein four, while the moderate Protestants of the Ulster Unionists got two and the moderate Catholics of the Social Democratic and Labour Party one. Positions were allocated on the basis of each party's strength in the Assembly.

Even though all of Northern Ireland knew for weeks this day was coming, it still stunned observers to see Paisley, 81, and McGuinness, 56, smiling beside each other alongside British Pime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

Paisley shared the amazement.

"If you had told me some time ago that I would be standing here to take this office, I would have been totally unbelieving," Paisley told a crowd of jubilant, even giddy politicians and other dignitaries, including U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, packed into the lobby of Stormont Parliamentary Building.

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