Ireland's Hard-Line Leaders Agree to Power Share

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Ian Paisley (left) and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams i

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (left) and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams announce a power-sharing agreement in Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 26, 2007. Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images
Ian Paisley (left) and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams

Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley (left) and Sinn Fein chief Gerry Adams announce a power-sharing agreement in Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 26, 2007.

Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, television showed the previously unthinkable sight of the staunchly Protestant, staunchly British 80-year-old Rev. Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party sitting down beside Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army or IRA.

"After a long and difficult time in our province, I believe that enormous opportunities lie ahead for our province," Paisley said. "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."

The agreement restores an elected assembly for Northern Ireland, with guarantees against its domination by either community. All of Northern Ireland's major political parties will contribute members to a power-sharing executive which will manage day-to-day affairs.

Ian Paisley is expected to become First Minister, with Martin McGuinnes of Sinn Fein as his deputy.

The assembly was first set up under the Good Friday peace agreement of 1998, but was suspended in 2002 amid continued political rancor. Ian Paisley had always opposed power sharing until the IRA's pledge to disarm in 2005, and Sinn Fein's recent decision to support the Northern Ireland police force. That cleared the way for Monday's historic meeting.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams was upbeat.

"I believe the agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP marks the beginning of a new era of politics on this island," he said.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have exerted huge pressure on the two parties to come together for this agreement.

Commentators are quick to point out that daily conflicts of power sharing will not be easy. And the divergent long-term aims of the two sides have been glossed over: Sinn Fein wants Northern Ireland to become part of a united Ireland. Democratic Unionists swear that will never happen.

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