Ulster's newest politicians open with a PR drive

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The Independent Online
NORTHERN IRELAND politics drew breath yesterday and returned to more mundane matters after Thursday's near-surfeit of history- making and political and constitutional change.

The day centred on the familiar issue of decommissioning in response to the IRA statement confirming its nomination of an unnamed person to speak to General John de Chastelain's Decommissioning Commission. The biggest loyalist paramilitary groups are likely to appoint representatives soon.

But many of the 10 new ministers who took office this week were active, in publicity terms at least, showering the media with faxes in an attempt to demonstrate they had hit the ground running and were energetically tackling the new challenges.

One minister visited a hospital; another visited a driving test centre and later helped to launch a pre-Christmas anti-drink and driving campaign; a third met senior business leaders and yet another called at a rate collection agency.

The Health Minister, Bairbre de Brun, of Sinn Fein publicised her visit to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital with news releases in English and Irish. She denied her portfolio was a poisoned chalice, given difficult policy choices ahead, and said she was daunted but very excited by her new post.

The First Minister, David Trimble, said he expected discussions between the new IRA interlocutor and General de Chastelain to begin immediately, with a report from the general within a few days.

The Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, said: "This is what the IRA said they were going to do, and they have done it. It means this issue at last can be taken out of the political process and put where it belongs, with the commission where it can be resolved. It will not be resolved anywhere else.

"For the first time in 80 years an all-Ireland political dispensation has been established which will effect change right across the island of Ireland. At the centre of all this will be Sinn Fein - whether it is in the Irish parliament, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, in the Executive or in the all-Ireland ministerial bodies."

Fergal Keane, Review, page 3