BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Britain said Sunday it intends to try to hand power immediately to a new Catholic-Protestant administration for Northern Ireland, but is open to Protestant demands for an extension to May.
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said Saturday’s decision by the major Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists, to reject today’s deadline would not spell the end of Britain’s decade-old effort to forge a stable power-sharing administration.
Hain noted that the Democratic Unionists have pledged for the first time to forge a coalition with Sinn Fein, the major Catholic-backed party, by an unspecified date in May.
“People said this would never happen, and it is a breakthrough,” he said.
The Democratic Unionists for years have refused to cooperate with Sinn Fein, citing its links to Irish Republican Army violence and crime. But significant peace moves – the IRA disarmed and renounced violence in 2005, and Sinn Fein in January pledged to cooperate with the Northern Ireland police – have undercut Democratic Unionists’ hatred of Sinn Fein.
Hain signed an order Sunday clearing the way for the Northern Ireland Assembly to convene today so that it could elect all 12 members of the envisioned administration.
As the two largest parties, both the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein can block the nominations. While Sinn Fein has long called for power-sharing, the Democratic Unionists say they must first be certain that Sinn Fein fully supports law and order in this British territory.