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UK: NORTHERN IRELAND: PEACE SETTLEMENT ENDORSED

Peace settlement endorsed by 71% of voters in Northern Ireland and 94% of voters in the Republic of Ireland

85.5% of the votes cast in the North and the South backed the peace deal. It was the first all-Ireland poll since 1918, when the six Ulster counties remained part of the UK whereas the rest became the Free State of Ireland.
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, said on Saturday after the referendums: 'There is no place for the gun and the bomb or violence in the politics of Northern Ireland or any of the islands of Ireland. All that is over and gone now.'
A poll conducted for The Sunday Times showed that a majority of people in the 17 of the northern province's 18 parliamentary constituencies voted in favour of the agreement. Only Ian Paisley's Antrim North constituency rejected the settlement.
The next step will be on June 25 when the 108-seat Northern Ireland assembly will be elected.
David Trimble's Unionist Party will now urge Sinn Fein to do anything to persuade the republican paramilitaries to decommision their weapons. This will be the litmus test for Sinn Fein to prove their honesty. Only by disarming and disbanding the military machinery will there be lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

The weeks ahead

The agreement which all parties and paramilitary groups more or less enthuasistically subscribed to is nobody's ideal, to be sure, but everyone's acceptable second choice. There are no outright winners, but there are no losers, either.
Ahead lie the following problems:
1. the before mentioned arms decommissioning,
2. the early release of prisoners,
3. a fundamental overhaul of NI's justice and policing systems,
4. the managenment of the marching season, which usually begins about July 12.
These are big issues which the Northern Ireland assembly will have to address. It will definitely take some time.

The Northern Ireland Assembly

Since 1974 it will be the first power-sharing administration, which will be elected from 18 constituencies each of which will have the right to send 6 candidates into the assembly. Out of 44 nationalist seats Sinn Fein will probably occupy 19 seats, the biggest nationalist party, John Hume's SDLP, will receive most of the remaining seats. David Trimble's Ulster Unionists will pick up 29 seats and Ian Paisley's No-campaigners might get 22 seats. Ian Paisley's supporters will probably wreck any attempts to foster links between Belfast and Dublin.
By the way, each elected member to the assembly will be paid c.70,000 pounds, including expenses and allowances. Not a bad job... a reason why there will be plenty of candidates.

The key points of the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement (April 98):
1.

The principle of consent is to be recognized, i.e. Northern Ireland is to be part of the UK while its people so wish. The Republic of Ireland is to amend articles two and three of its constitution as to removing its claim on Northern Ireland. Conversely Britain is to repeal the Government of Ireland Act of 1920.

2.

ANorthern Irish assemblyof 108 members is to be elected on the basis of proportional representation.The assembly is to be run by an executive committee of 12 members from various parties.

3.

A North-south ministerial council is to be set up by the assembly to direct co-operation between Ulster and Ireland.

4.

A Council of the Isles is to be established with members from the parliaments at Westminster, Dublin and Edinburgh, the Northern Ireland assembly and the Welsh assembly.

5. All participants are to be committed to disarmament of paramilitary organizations.

The settlement was hammered out by both Protestant and Catholic political representatives and George Michael, the chaiman of the talks and former US Senate leader. Indirectly involved in the negotiations was the American president.

On the Protestant (pro British) side were: On the Catholic (pro Ireland) side were:
Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister
Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary
David Trimble, Ulster Unionist Party
Ian Paisley, Democratic Unionist Party
David Ervine, Progressive Unionist Party
Gary McMichael, Ulster Democratic Party
Bertie Ahern, the Irish PM (called taoiseach)
John Hume, SDLP
Gerry Adams, Sinn Fein, linked to IRA
Lord Alderdice, Alliance Party (non-sectarian)

The agreement's full text is on the Internet edition of The Sunday Times.




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