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Convening of Northern Ireland Assembly an "Important Moment"

08 May 2007

State Department praises British prime minister's work on power-sharing

Washington -- The Bush administration welcomes the convening of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, which marks the end of direct rule from London and raises hopes for a permanent, peaceful coexistence between Northern Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities.

“It is an important moment,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters May 8.  “All of the parties involved in this process over the years deserve congratulations,” he said, offering special recognition to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who he said “worked tirelessly on this effort over the many years and certainly … deserves much credit for the fact that we have gotten to this point.”

The inauguration of the new government in Belfast came as a result of the March 26 power-sharing agreement between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) led by the Reverend Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams’ Sinn Fein.  (See related article.)

The agreement was based on the Good Friday Accord, a 1998 pact brokered with U.S. assistance that calls for Protestants to share political power with the minority Catholics, and gives the Republic of Ireland a voice in Northern Irish affairs. (See related article.)

Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, President Bush’s special envoy on Northern Ireland, led a presidential delegation to the opening of the assembly which included U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Thomas Foley and Senator Edward Kennedy.

Dobriansky “is there today as a way demonstrating our support for not only the effort but this particular event,” McCormack said.

The under secretary delivered a May 7 congratulatory message from President Bush, who said voters in Northern Ireland confirmed in a March 7 election their desire for “a society based on peace, respect, and opportunity for all.”

“Their message was clear: the time had come for a representative government that would work for the collective good of all the people of Northern Ireland,” Bush said, and pledged continued U.S. support for the peace process.

Senator Kennedy told reporters in Belfast that Northern Ireland is showing the world “an extraordinary example … that you can disband militias and private armies, and put away the bomb and bullet," in reference to the Irish Republican Army’s 2005 decision to renounce violence and disarm.

Addressing the assembly at Stormont, the seat of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Blair said the new government “marks not just the completion of the transition from conflict to peace, but also gives the most visible expression to the fundamental principle on which the peace process has been based.”

Blair said the acceptance by both sides that Northern Ireland “can only be governed successfully by both communities working together” is “the only basis upon which true democracy can function and by which normal politics can at last [come] after decades of violence and suffering.”

He said Northern Ireland was once “synonymous with conflict,” and the conflict there was believed to be “intractable.”

“Yet in the end it was done and this holds a lesson for conflict everywhere to define the right political framework since only through politics can come peace that lasts,” he said.

Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said all sides should work to ensure that the current generation in Northern Ireland is “the last generation on these islands to feel the anger and pain of old quarrels.”

“We know the unique and delicate balance that binds this process together. Our task is to protect and nurture what has now been achieved,” he said.

The full text of President Bush’s message on the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly is available on the Web site of the U.S. Consulate General in Belfast.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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