English and Irish leaders are working furiously at creating an acceptable power-sharing agreement with the newly elected members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. At stake is the central aim of the landmark 1998 Good Friday Peace Accord, which seeks to establish an executive branch drawn equally from the Unionist Protestant majority and Republican Catholic minority that will govern Northern Ireland in a spirit of compromise. The British and Irish prime ministers, Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern, citing the voting results, have called upon the Democratic Unionist Party to forge a joint administration with Sinn Fein by March 26.
The DUP is led by the Reverend Ian Paisley, who is an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church and once called the late Pope John Paul II the anti-Christ. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness is the former second-in-command leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army and refuses to take his seat in London as a member of the British Parliament.The discussions surrounding power-sharing should prove to be most interesting with such polar-opposite leaders potentially sharing the number one and number two executive positions in Northern Ireland.
The DUP has been stalled by its accusations that Sinn Fein continues to support violence by the Irish Republican Army. The IRA renounced all violence and began to disarm in 2005 and Sinn Fein has recently voted to cooperate with the Police Service of Northern Ireland despite its history of anti-Catholic behavior. Likewise, both the British and Irish have stated that peacemaking efforts by Sinn Fein and the IRA have removed any excuse for the DUP not to engage in critical talks. The March 26 deadline looms large over the situation as both Blair and Ahern have proposed an alternative of a joint British-Irish governing body and the decrease of funding for Northern Ireland if an agreement is not reached.
DUP's Reverend Doctor Paisley can no longer incite the Protestant majority with his anti-Catholic rantings and ravings but now must begin the process of dialogue and cooperation. Sinn Fein's leadership under both Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness has shown that Northern Ireland's Republican Catholic minority has been willing to work for the common good of the province and has peacefully cooperated in political life. If Paisley is to reign as the First Minister of Northern Ireland in a new power-sharing government, he must begin that reign now, with diplomatic comprise and statesmanlike cooperation with Sinn Fein and other Catholic political parties. There is little time nor is there patience for Paisley's demagogic antics.
The future of a peaceful Northern Ireland hangs in the balance.
(This editorial originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)