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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

N. Ireland Rivals Agree To Start Sharing Power

bloombergIan Paisley
BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Northern Ireland's main Protestant and Catholic parties agreed on Monday to start sharing power May 8 after their leaders put aside decades of hostility to hold a historic first meeting.

Hard-line Protestant leader Ian Paisley, of the Democratic Unionist Party, sat beside Gerry Adams, head of the mainly Catholic Sinn Fein, to announce the deal.

"Today we've agreed with Sinn Fein that this date will be Tuesday, May 8, 2007," Paisley said after the meeting at the Northern Ireland assembly's building in Belfast. "I believe we can lay the foundations for a better, peaceful and prosperous future for all the people of Northern Ireland," Paisley said.

Adams welcomed the deal as marking "the beginning of a new era of politics on this island."

Britain and Ireland have been pushing Northern Ireland's feuding parties for years to agree to share power, seeing it as a crucial step toward cementing peace.

The DUP wants to maintain Northern Ireland's links with Britain while Sinn Fein's ultimate aim is a united Ireland.

The British government had told both sides that they must start jointly running Northern Ireland's day-to-day affairs on Monday or accept indefinite direct rule from London. But Paisley's DUP said Saturday that it wanted a delay until May.

Britain has indicated that it could accept a delay if all the Northern Irish parties agreed.

Paisley has always refused to talk to Adams because of Sinn Fein's alliance with the Irish Republican Army guerrilla group, which was responsible for nearly half of the 3,600 killings during 30 years of sectarian conflict in the province. But on Monday, Adams and Paisley sat within a few feet of each other around a table. There was no public handshake.

Gerry Adams
At the start of the meeting, around 10 Sinn Fein members, including Adams, walked up the building's grand staircase and into the members' dining room where Paisley was waiting.

Britain's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said earlier that if the meeting between Paisley and Adams went ahead, it would be "quite extraordinary."

In the past, Paisley has branded rivals from the province's minority Catholic community terrorists.

A peace deal nearly a decade ago has largely stemmed decades of sectarian bloodshed.