“Everything we have done over the last 10 years has been a preparation for this moment,” proclaimed British Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading a vocal and mainly positive response by Irish and British political leaders to the successful outcome of the DUP-Sinn Féin negotiations this week.
Mr Blair said it was “a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland but also for the people and the history of these islands”, while 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said the agreement was “unprecedented” and had “the potential to transform the future of this island”.
SDLP leader Mark Durkan, while welcoming yesterday’s developments, said he could not understand why power-sharing could not have happened on Monday.
Mr Durkan described yesterday’s events as “Sunningdale digitally enhanced” in a reference to the power-sharing attempt in the mid-1970s.
“A lot of people today will wonder about all the lost years, the lost opportunities, and the lost lives,” he said.
Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey said that nine years ago Mr Paisley had denounced what was now on the table.
“Today he is with what he calls Sinn Féin/IRA and he seemingly does not have any problem with that,” he said.
“What has his whole career been about when unionists could have had a far better deal than what is on the table today?”
Alliance leader David Ford said yesterday’s move was a historic step forward for the Six Counties but he expressed disappointment at the six-week delay in restoring power-sharing.
Republican Sinn Féin leader Ruairi O Bradaigh said the accord consolidated English rule in Ireland.
“It is based on the Partition not alone of Ireland but also of the province of Ulster and is an artificial method of administering an artificial entity of Six Irish Counties.
“As such it cannot work in the long term.
“Once more English money has been decisive in cobbling it together. While it may postpone Irish national independence it cannot prevent that ideal being ultimately achieved by the Irish people.”
O Bradaigh again called for a nine-county Ulster parliament within a federation of the four traditional provinces of Ireland.
The US government and leading US politicians welcomed the agreement and promised the US would help to ensure a new executive could succeed.
Paula Dobriansky, president George Bush’s special envoy on the North, congratulated the people of the Six Counties for demonstrating that a new era had started.
“We also congratulate, in particular, UK prime minister Tony Blair and Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, whose leadership throughout the process was critical to bringing a successful conclusion.
“As special envoy, I will do all I can to assist the people of Northern Ireland in moving into full and effective government that fully implements the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements,” she said.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton described yesterday’s agreement as “the culmination of a long and historic journey” that would transform the lives of the people of Ireland.
Republican senator John McCain said that, although the term “historic” was almost a cliche, the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin was just that.
Congressman Richard Neal, chairman of the Friends of Ireland in the US House of Representatives, said that the agreement was one of the most significant developments on the island of Ireland in more than a century.
“I would like to congratulate both Rev Paisley and Gerry Adams on this remarkable achievement. The historic compromise they reached today took courage and vision. They took a genuine risk for peace. And thanks to their efforts, a new era in Northern Ireland is about to begin,” he said.
Mr Neal, who will lead a bipartisan congressional delegation to Ireland on Friday, said he would tell Northern politicians that the US is ready to help.
“We can see what economic growth has done for the Republic of Ireland and there’s no reason why that couldn’t take place in the North,” he said.