Monitor: There are still pitfalls ahead
THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
Saturday 04 December 1999
inauguration of the new power-sharing executive in Belfast
THERE ARE still many difficulties ahead, and it is clear that Unionists generally will feel considerable unease until the decommissioning debate is finally and properly resolved. It is essential that General de Chastelain is able to fulfil his duties in this respect within the timetable envisaged in the Mitchell review. However, it was appropriate that most attention should be focused yesterday on the inaugural executive meeting. It was certainly historic, but, by all accounts, it was also brisk and businesslike in nature. We can only look forward to the day when cabinet deliberations are a normal and indeed an entirely unexceptional part of the political process in Northern Ireland.
The Cork Examiner
THE DAWNING of a new era was reflected in the deliberations of the inaugural meeting of the North's new Executive which now takes over responsibility for issues as diverse as education, health, finance, culture, social security and sport. Much remains to be done, including disarmament of paramilitary weapons and reform of the RUC. But for the first time in the North's turbulent history its people, Unionist and nationalist, Protestant and Catholic, loyalist and republican, are setting out together on an exciting journey towards a new future based on consensus and co-operation rather than conflict and confrontation. The aspiration of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that in the Ireland of the 21st century sovereignty will be vested in the people, North and South, symbolises the depth of the sea change under way. In every aspect of their daily lives, ordinary people will reap the benefits of the events now unfolding. In political, economic, religious, cultural and ethnic terms, the Irish people have taken a giant step into an exciting new era of stability, prosperity and lasting peace.
THERE ARE those who would resort to violence to achieve their ends, despite the expressed will of the people of Ireland, North and South. If they try to wreck the agreement through violence, we will confront them. There are those who would prefer to engage in the failed politics of the past than face a future based on partnership, equality, mutual respect and agreement. But, as we have shown in recent weeks and months, we can overcome all of the obstacles to achieving a lasting peace. And with peace, I am convinced that there can be true reconciliation. We must respect and cherish difference and diversity. We must recognise that there are different traditions and identities on this island and value their contributions. I believe that we have the means, a framework, within which profound differences can be accommodated on the basis of consent. We have lived with the consequences of the failures of the past. We can now move into a new future, rich in the promise of peace, partnership and prosperity. (Bertie Ahern)
PEOPLE HAVE laid down their lives, or the lives of others, in pursuit of their political goals - and the result has been misery and stagnation. Those days are at an end, if today's new institutions and the spirit in which they have been inaugurated take root. But a shadow hangs over the whole proceedings, and its removal will be dependent on a start to actual decommissioning, before the deadline which the First Minister, David Trimble, has fixed. The IRA have the answer at their disposal but, meanwhile, the prospect of making Northern Ireland work - devoid of constitutional politics - is both a God-given challenge and an opportunity.
THE GOOD humour, and the high hopes, will not last unless the parties learn to trust one another. Ancient suspicions must be removed by such concrete acts as IRA disarmament and Unionist acceptance of police reform. But trust can be nurtured also in other, less tangible ways. When Martin McGuinness develops a personal relationship with Danny Kennedy, the Unionist chairman of the committee that will "mark" him as Education Minister, we will know that the project is on the way to success. And why not? It will be no more remarkable than the historic developments of the last two years. And far better for calm co-operation, instead of fireworks, to characterise the new dispensation. The North has had more than its share of banners and bonfires.
THE WEEKS and months to come will see many potential pitfalls, the most pressing of which is the UUP's latest decommissioning ultimatum, but Sinn Fein is well equipped to cope with the challenges.The party's revolutionary politics have taken us to this historic compromise, a deal that leaves more than enough room for our able and committed politicians, backed by a swelling vote throughout this island, to implement radical policies for change and to move towards our ultimate objective of a united Ireland.
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