seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Ian Paisley’s Retirement from the Power-Sharing Assembly

ian-paisleyOn March 23, 2011, Ian Paisley calls for a new era of sharing and reconciliation in an emotional farewell at his final sitting of the power-sharing Assembly he helped to create at Stormont. Dr. Paisley continues his political career in the House of Lords.

Protestant and Catholic leaders in Northern Ireland‘s unity government celebrate their first full four-year term in power and lauded Paisley, the unlikely peacemaker who made it possible, on his effective retirement day.

Paisley, a stern anti-Catholic evangelist who spent decades rallying pro-British Protestants against compromise, stuns the world in 2007 by agreeing to forge a coalition alongside senior Irish Republican Army (IRA) veterans. Their polar-opposite combination governs Northern Ireland with surprising harmony for the four years leading up to his retirement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly that elects the administration is dissolved on March 14, 2011 in preparation for a May 5 election in the British territory. The 84-year-old Paisley makes his last debate in an elected chamber on March 6, 2011, noting that this local government is not ending in chaos and acrimony, as 1999-2002 attempts at power-sharing repeatedly had done.

At this point, Paisley has already stepped down as a member of the British and European parliaments and as leader of the Democratic Unionists, a party of hard-line Protestant protesters that he founded in 1970 and watched grow over the previous decade into the most popular in Northern Ireland.

Those lauding him include Peter Robinson, who succeeded him in 2008 as leader of both the government and the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin‘s Martin McGuinness, the senior Catholic politician who spends decades as a commander of Paisley’s archenemy, the IRA.

The IRA kills nearly 1,800 people in a failed 1970-1997 effort to force Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom when the overwhelmingly Catholic rest of Ireland gains its independence in 1922. The outlawed IRA formally renounces violence and disarms in 2005, clearing the way for its allied Sinn Féin party to recognize the legal authority of Northern Ireland and its police.

Still, few observers expected Paisley to agree to a pact so quickly after the IRA-Sinn Féin peace moves or to get along so warmly with McGuinness during their year in partnership.

McGuinness, whose organization once considered Paisley a prime target for assassination, addressing his remarks to the stooped, silver-haired Paisley across the chamber, notes that Ulster wits had christened the two of them “the Chuckle Brothers.” He adds, “And I would like to think that we showed leadership. I think my relationship with him will undoubtedly go down in the history books.”

(From: “Northern Ireland power-sharing marks 1st full term,” the Associated Press and CTV News, March 23, 2011)

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Demolition of HM Prison Maze Begins

maze-prisonBulldozers begin demolishing Northern Ireland‘s notorious HM Prison Maze, previously known as Long Kesh Detention Centre, on October 31, 2006. The prison once housed the most dangerous guerrillas from both sides of the province’s sectarian conflict.

Among the inmates at Maze are ten Irish nationalist hunger strikers who starved themselves to death in 1981. The prison has been empty since 2000, after the release of most guerrilla prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in relative peace after 30 years of fighting in which 3,600 people died.

A sports stadium, equestrian center, hotel, and shopping center are originally proposed for the 360-acre site in County Antrim. In January 2009, however, Sports Minister Gregory Campbell rules out the plan for a multi-sports stadium which has divided political and sporting opinion, opting instead to explore alternatives with the soccer, rugby, and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) authorities.

Northern Ireland first and deputy first ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, announce in 2010 that an agreement has been reached on building a peace and conflict resolution facility at the Maze site. It will also host the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s annual show. On February 2, 2012, European funding of £18m is approved for building the contentious conflict resolution centre.

Planning permission for the peace centre on the site of the former prison is granted on April 18, 2013. However, in June the Orange Order calls on unionist politicians to halt the peace centre plan, objecting to its location on the former prison site.

On August 15, 2013, Peter Robinson calls a halt to the peace centre plan. In a letter to Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) members, he says it would be wrong to proceed without a consensus about how it will operate. As a result, in October 2013 the European Union funding programme withdraws its £18m offer in financial support for the Maze peace centre.

That the Maze Prison development remains unrealised 16 years after the site’s closure testifies to the complexities involved. That the prospect of redevelopment has never been taken off the table affirms the ineluctable power ideas of profit still hold.