Irish peace accord still faces obstacles
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DUBLIN, Ireland (CNN) -- Northern Ireland awoke to a new
political future Sunday after voters approved a historic
peace deal, but the architect of the negotiations warned that
the accord alone won't guarantee peace.
"By itself, this agreement will not create peace and
stability. This only provides the means to achieve peace and
security," said former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, who chaired
the International Commission on Disarmament in Northern
Ireland for two years.
The accord was finalized April 10, and residents of
British-ruled Northern Ireland and the independent Irish
Republic voted on it Friday. Mitchell did not discount the
possibility of more violence that has resulted in thousands
of deaths in the past three decades.
"Probably, inevitably" more violence will occur, he said. He
also warned that some Irish who get involved in the assembly,
that will be created through June elections, might "be part
of the process to wreck the process."
Indeed, John Taylor, deputy leader of the Ulster Unionist
Party, Northern Ireland's main Protestant party, issued a
statement warning members to be careful about the candidates
they choose for the new assembly.
Look to the future
The peace agreement is designed to heal the divisions between
Catholics and Protestants that have left 3,400 dead, 40,000
injured and property damage worth millions of dollars.
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern had a simple message for
those who still aim to promote violence: "Forget it."
"The people on whose behalf you claim to act have spoken.
Your ways are the ways of the past," Ahern said.
Other analysts said the future will not be easy.
"It's clear that there is still significant opposition.
There's no question of that," Paul Bew, professor of politics
at Queen's University in Belfast, told RTE television's
"Prime Time" program.
"The 'No' lobby are down but not out, because they have a
second bite at the cherry in the assembly elections," said
Duncan Morrow, a politics lecturer at the University of
Ulster in Belfast.
In Northern Ireland, 71 percent of the voters opted for the
agreement on a power-sharing government, a deal also backed
by 94 percent of the voters in the Republic of Ireland.
"The will of the people has spoken. They, the people, have
said, 'There has to be a better way,'" said David Ermine, a
former prisoner and a leader of the pro-British Progressive
Unionist Party. "We now have to get our hands dirty and deal
with people who perhaps we don't like in order to achieve
Gerry Adams, left, and negotiator Martin McGuinness
Voter turnout in Northern Ireland was 81.1 percent, the
highest in the province since the island of Ireland was
partitioned in 1921.
The announcement in Belfast, Northern Ireland, that the
agreement had been passed brought cheers, singing and
applause from the audience awaiting the outcome of the ballot
counting at the King's Hall.
Politicians had warned that anything less than a strong
endorsement from the north could wreck the chances of the
peace agreement working properly.
Analysts and political leaders said they considered Northern
Ireland's 71 percent "yes" vote a decisive victory for peace.
What comes next?
The results pave the way for the next steps in the agreement
to take place:
- June 25: Elections held in Northern Ireland for a 108-
member legislative assembly, chosen by proportional
- End of June: Deadline for British and Irish governments to
enact legislation allowing for early release of prisoners,
many from warring Protestant and Catholic paramilitaries.
New assembly to meet "as soon as practically possible" after
elections. Initially it will shadow the British government's
Northern Ireland ministry but will gradually take over powers
The North/South Ireland Ministerial Council, including
first minister and first deputy minister from Northern
Ireland and prime minister from Irish Republic to begin
meetings "as soon as practically possible" after elections.
Council will meet at least twice a year at summit level to
discuss areas for cooperation.
British/Irish Council, including representatives of British
and Irish governments, to begin summit meetings at least
twice a year; regular sectoral meetings to discuss specific
- Summer 1999: Deadline for an independent commission to
report back with recommendations for future policing
arrangements in Northern Ireland.
- Autumn 1999: Deadline for review of the province's
criminal justice system, to be carried out by the British
government in consultation with political parties and
- May 2000: Deadline for decommissioning of all arms held by
- Summer 2000: Most paramilitary prisoners likely to be
released from jail by this date if agreement holds.
Protestant leader calls vote 'convincing'
Northern Ireland's election officials gave no breakdown of
the vote, so it was not clear how many of Northern Ireland's
pro-British Protestant majority had backed the deal.
The results represented a narrow victory for Ulster Unionist
leader David Trimble, head of the largest pro-British
Protestant party, who had set a 70 percent "yes" vote as his
goal. Anything above that, he said, would indicate that most
Protestants were willing to make Northern Ireland's new
compromise government work.
"It's a very convincing endorsement to have over 71 percent,"
Pre-election surveys had showed Catholics overwhelmingly in
favor of the pact, but Protestants evenly divided.
Blair praises results
"This is the result we have worked for and wanted, another
giant stride along the path to peace, hope and the future,"
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
The accord would create a government in Northern Ireland
aimed at balancing Protestant and Catholic rights and
"I think people throughout this island have voted for
change," said Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the political
arm of the Irish Republican Army, which supports a united
Ireland. "The task now is to manage that change."