Friday, February 5, 2010

Britain and Ireland agree to save Northern Ireland deal

Word from London is that Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the now-disarmed Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, has scored a political coup with the last-minute rescue of a power-sharing deal on the future of the British province. The deal calls for the transfer of the six counties of Northern Ireland still under British rule to a commission of representatives of the often-contentious Protestant and Roman Catholic communities. The breakthrough came Friday after 10 days of intensive negotiations between British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen and the leaders of the two communities, according to the New York Times. Of course, the agreement also was a coup for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who played a major rule in the negotiations. Clinton apparently had been involved in U.S. mediation efforts, when her husband was president, that helped arrange the historic 1998 power-sharing agreement that disarmed violent militias that had supported Protestants and Catholics engaged in 30 years of sectarian conflict that became known as the "troubles." “We are closing the last chapter of a long and troubled story, and we are opening a new chapter for Northern Ireland,” Brown said at a news conference with Cowen, Peter Robinson, head of the Protestant Democratic Unionist Party, and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein. “I think people have looked over the abyss and said, ‘There is no return to the past.’” Cowen called the agreement "an essential step for peace, stability and security in Northern Ireland,” Reuters said. Clinton is expected to return to Northern Ireland later this year to head up an international conference aimed at encouraging investment in the province.

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