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Northern Ireland Rivals Agree to May 8 Power Sharing

26 March 2007

Northern Ireland's bitter rivals, the protestant Democratic Union Party and the Irish Catholic Sinn Fein reached agreement in Belfast Monday that they'll begin sharing power as of May 8. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London the agreement signals a revival of self-rule and hopes for a final end to decades of sectarian conflict.

Monday's announcement followed a first ever face-to-face meeting between hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley and his long-time nemesis, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams - the political face of the Irish Republican Army, the IRA.

Although the two men did not shake hands on camera, they sat beside each other around the table and talked of the need to deliver a better future for the people of Northern Ireland.

Ian Paisley said the time had come to move beyond a difficult past.

"We must not allow our justified loathing of the horrors and tragedies of the past to become a barrier to creating a better and more stable future for our children," he said.

At stake is the revival of self-rule for Northern Ireland with a government in which the opposing sides share power. The plan was first drawn up in the 1998 Good Friday peace accords, which ended three decades of sectarian conflict in the province.

Since then deadlines for implementation have come and gone, progress had stalled. The two parties were to begin sharing power by midnight Monday. And, while they missed that goal, they were able to agree on a date of May 8 to begin doing so.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams spoke of centuries of discord, hurt and tragedy. But, he said Monday's meeting had ushered in a new era.

"We've all come a very long way in the process of peace making and national reconciliation," he said. "We're very conscious of the many people who have suffered. We owe it to them to build the best future possible. It's a time for generosity, a time to mindful of the common good and of the future of all our people."

Speaking in London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the announcement.

"Everything we've done over the last 10 years has been in preparation for this moment," he said.

Mr. Blair said that by agreeing to share power, the political leadership in Northern Ireland was falling in behind what the people voted for in recent elections for a power-sharing assembly.

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