10 May 2007 Edition
Peace process : Six County Executive takes office
A good day for Ireland
Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley took up their positions at the head of a power-sharing Executive in the Six Counties on Tuesday in the latest historic chapter of the Irish peace process. The ministers who will run the Executive were nominated in the first sitting of the Assembly in five years.
Sinn Féin Ministers include Michelle Gildernew as Agriculture Minister, Caitríona Ruane as Education Minister and Conor Murphy as Regional Development Minister while Gerry Kelly is a Junior Minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers.
DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson is Finance Minister with party colleague Nigel Dodds as Economy Minister, UUP leader Reg Empey as Employment and Learning Minister, the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie as Social Development Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster as Environment Minister, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey as Health Minister, and the DUP’s Edwin Poots as Culture Minister.
Proceedings at the Assembly were adjourned for a short time as a mark of respect Democratic Unionist MLA George Dawson who died on Monday night.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair attended the ceremonies at Stormont as did Sinn Féin representatives from across Ireland. These included party President Gerry Adams, incoming Ministers Caitríona Ruane, Michelle Gildernew, Gerry Kelly and Conor Murphy. They were to be joined from the 26 Counties by Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald, North Kerry TD Martin Ferris, Councillors Gerry Murray, John Brady, David Cullinane, Padraig Mac Lochlainn, Joe Reilly, Jonathan O’Brien and Dublin Mid West candidate Joanne Spain.
Martin McGuinness said it was a day of history. “What we’re going to see today is one of the mightiest leaps forward that this process has seen in almost 15 years,” he said.
As McGuinness and Paisley took up their positions at the head of the power-sharing Executive Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said it was another significant landmark in the process of transforming life on the island of Ireland.
Changing the political landscape
“Today is another significant landmark in the process of transforming life on this island. It’s a good day for Ireland, it’s a good day for all of the people of this island. I think that Sinn Féin has delivered and I want to commend the DUP also. The talks between Sinn Féin and the DUP, and the agreements between us, have opened up the potential for new beginnings”, Gerry Adams said.
“I want also to remember everyone who was hurt or killed in the conflict. Over the weekend I spent time in County Tyrone with families of IRA Volunteers killed 20 years ago today at Loughgall. Days like today must be about ensuring that events like Loughgall are never visited on another generation”, he said.
“I genuinely believe that we are all shaping a real process of national reconciliation and building a new relationship between the people on this island and between Ireland and Britain. There are clearly many challenges ahead but have no doubt that all these challenges can be overcome.
We, as Republicans can develop and build and work and seek support for our vision of a united Ireland, of an Ireland of equals where everyone has rights. We have the right to a society where citizens are treated on the basis of equality. We want to change the political landscape from here on out. We are going to succeed”, said Adams.
In addition to the Taoiseach and British prime minister, several international guests attended Tuesday’s events, including US senator Edward Kennedy, asked by the White House to represent President Bush.
Former Taoisigh Albert Reynolds and John Bruton were also among those invited to join the Taoiseach’s delegation, along with former tánaiste Dick Spring, former foreign minister David Andrews, and former government adviser on the North, Senator Martin Mansergh.
After the appointment of Ministers, a ceremony which included music and a performance from the Sky’s the Limit group from West Belfast saw speeches from Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair, Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.
Martin McGuinness said:.
“I am proud to stand here today as an Irish Republican who believes absolutely in a United Ireland.
“I too wish to welcome the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, and all our friends from around the world whose encouragement and support helped us reach this day.
“Many people in this hall today played an important part in our peace process. Many others could not be with us today. I want to send our warmest thanks to them.
“We will continue to rely on that support as we strive towards a society moving from division and disharmony to one which celebrates our diversity and is determined to provide a better future for all our people. One which cherishes the elderly, the vulnerable, the young and all of our children equally. Which welcomes warmly those from other lands and cultures who wish to join us and forge a future together. A society which remembers those who have lost their lives.
“Last Saturday I spent time with families in County Tyrone who had lost loved ones. They and many others throughout our community have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of our difficult and painful past. So we must look to the future to find the means to help them heal.
“We must also focus on the practical. To build we need the tools and as I have said we look to our friends on these islands and beyond to provide the practical support we need.
“As joint heads of the Executive the First Minister and I pledge to do all in our power to ensure it makes a real difference to the lives of all our people by harnessing their skills through a first rate education system, caring for our sick in the best health service we can provide and building our economy through encouraging investment and improving our infrastructure.
“We know that this will not be easy and the road we are embarking on will have many twists and turns. It is however a road which we have chosen and which is supported by the vast majority of our people. In the recent elections they voted for a new political era based on peace and reconciliation.
“On the evening of the Assembly election results I received a phone call from a 100-years young woman, Molly Gallagher, in County Donegal. She told me she was very happy with the election results and that she was looking forward to seeing Ian Paisley and myself together. I’m sure she is watching us today. Hello Molly.
“As for Ian Paisley, I want to wish you all the best as we step forward towards the greatest, yet most exciting challenge of our lives.
“Ireland’s greatest living poet, a fellow Derry man, Seamus Heaney, once told a gathering that I attended at Magee University that for too long and too often we speak of the others or the other side and that what we need to do is to get to a place of through otherness. The Office of the First and deputy First Ministers is a good place to start. This will only work if we collectively accept the wisdom and importance of Seamus Heaney’s words.
Since March 26 much work has been done which has confounded critics and astounded the sceptics.
“Like these talented people from Sky’s the Limit, who entertained us so wonderfully today, we must overcome the difficulties which we face in order to achieve our goals and seize the opportunities that exist. This, and future generations expect and deserve no less from us.”