After 25 years, Ulster retakes control

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The Independent Online
POWER WAS devolved to Northern Ireland's new executive last night after 25 years of direct rule from Westminster. The transfer came at midnight, ushering in a new and, it is to be hoped, more peaceful era.

Northern Ireland politicians last held power in 1974, in a cross-community government that lasted only five months before it was swept away by a tide of loyalist protest.

A generation of politicians almost entirely devoid of administrative experience is now taking up the reins.

A north-south ministerial council, which forms another part of the new constitutional architecture, met yesterday, ratifying plans for cross- border co-operation between the executive and Dublin.

Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, said he was "disappointed" after Protestant pupils at a school in the Co Down village of Kilkeel walked out in protest over his appointment as Minister for Education.

Mr McGuinness said he regretted the action, but had been greatly encouraged by the general level of support he had received.

"There are difficulties for all in a situation of change, but change is necessary and our job is to manage that change in a sensitive way," Mr McGuinness said.

The Irish Republic will today change, as part of the new deal, the two articles of its constitution that have been long condemned by Unionists as an unwarranted claim on the United Kingdom's territory of Northern Ireland.

In preparing the way for this, the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, delivered a stern warning to republican rebels yesterday: "This government will not tolerate an attack by dissident organisations. There is no vestige of an excuse today for any organisation that would call itself republican to repudiate or deny the living democracy that now exists in Ireland, both north and south."

Today, the IRA is to appoint an interlocutor to discuss arms decommissioning.

Tony Blair said yesterday: "There are going to be many difficulties along the way of achieving a lasting peace in Northern Ireland but I believe one huge, giant step forward has been taken."

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