Education minister who left school at 15 starts work

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The Independent Online
NORTHERN IRELAND'S disparate new cabinet settled into office yesterday following all the history-making of Monday, the ten new ministers meeting their staff and bedding themselves into the bureaucracy.

As they did so, the IRA complained that First Minister David Trimble had stepped outside the terms of the Mitchell review at the weekend in selling the devolution package to his party In recalling his Ulster Unionist Council in February to reconsider the decommissioning issue, he had been outside the terms of the agreement he had reached with republicans, the organisation said.

But it confirmed that it would, as promised, appoint a go-between with the International Commission on Decommissioning on Thursday, as soon as devolution "goes live".

As ministers assumed the trappings of office, both the Commons and the Lords in Westminster were occupied with the constitutional technicalities which will precede tomorrow's transfer of power to the new Belfast executive.

In Belfast, most attention was concentrated on Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's chief negotiator, whose appointment as Minister of Education generated political shock waves. The elevation of a one-time street fighter who left school at 15 has caused a general stir.

He yesterday sought to assure doubters that he did not see his new post in sectional terms; the last thing he wished to do was to discriminate. He said he had himself benefited from "the political education of a lifetime".

In the Lords, Ulster minister Lord Dubs told peers the transfer of power "represents the triumph of normal democratic politics over violence".

Downing Street was silently confident that the hand-over would go without a hitch. The order devolving power will be given Royal Assent today and the final transfer of power to the new executive will take place at midnight.

As the Northern Ireland Appointed Day Order began its passage through Parliament, two former Northern Ireland Secretaries of State, Lords Merlyn- Rees and Mayhew joined peers from all sides in supporting the measure without a vote.

David Aaronovitch

Review, page 3