Control of Ulster reverts to Stormont

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The Independent Online

At the stroke of midnight last night, power was transferred from Westminster to Stormont for the second time in seven months, giving Unionists, nationalists and republicans another chance to work together.

At the stroke of midnight last night, power was transferred from Westminster to Stormont for the second time in seven months, giving Unionists, nationalists and republicans another chance to work together.

Devolution took place in a sober and business-like atmosphere, the many uncertainties which surround the exercise dispelling any sense of elation. Major players tended to express hope rather than confidence that this time the new government would succeed in establishing itself.

Members of the executive are expected back at their desks today, although the Rev Ian Paisley is refusing to confirm that his two party members will again accept ministerial posts. The executive is to meet on Thursday.

If the Paisleyites decline their seats the participating parties will have to undertake a redistribution of ministries. Under the rules, the vacant seats would go to the Ulster Unionist Party and the middle-of-the-road Alliance party. The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, who resumes as First Minister, said: "We hope these institutions will take root. We hope that a new situation will develop within society. Certainly, for our part we will do everything we can to maximise the opportunity here for people.

"I hope we've come over the Rubicon this time but again, with other events, we'll wait and see how things unfold."

His deputy, Seamus Mallon of the SDLP, warned against another suspension of the devolved government, saying: "I think the toleration of people on the ground wouldn't wear it again. The credibility factor would be destroyed if there was another cessation of the institutions and I believe the political process would have suffered very substantially if that was the case."

Mr Mallon spoke of avoiding becoming bogged down in divisive issues, and said what should be stressed were "the positive elements, the creative elements, the imaginative elements rather than letting themselves have this millstone of niggling factors, divisive factors, points of controversy hanging around our shoulders day in day out".

Martin McGuinness said he was relishing his return to resume his role as Education Minister. "We're living in a time where there is constant hope among the people.

"We want to build a future for everybody. The question is, are we up to that task? I think we are. I think we can get this right," he said.

The security forces are investigating the murder of a man on Sunday night in what is described as a drugs-related attack. The man, Edmund McCoy, 28, was shot in a south Belfast pub.

Another incident, in which a house in Comber, Co Down was riddled with bullets, is said to be connected to a feud between loyalist groups which has already claimed several lives this year.

In the Irish Republic, police are holding seven men in an operation directed against dissident republican elements, in particular the so-called Real IRA. Eight other men who were arrested at the weekend have been released.

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