After 25 years, Ulster takes control of its own affairs again

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POWER WAS devolved to Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive last night after 25 years of direct rule from Westminster. The transfer came at midnight, ushering in a new and hopefully 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 north-south ministerial council, which forms another part of the new constitutional architecture, met yesterday, ratifying plans for cross- border co-operation between the new 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. He said he was greatly encouraged by the general level of support he had received. He added: "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."

The Irish Republic will today change, as part of the new deal, the two articles of its constitution long condemned by Unionists as an unwarranted claim on their territory.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, warned 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.

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