Face of Ireland changed in just 16 minutes

By Jim Gibney (for the Irish News)

The historical record will show that at 11.32am on Tuesday May 8 2007 in Stormont’s assembly chamber a line was drawn under the 1920 political arrangements partitioning Ireland.

It took all of three minutes, beginning at 11.29am, for the failed partitionist institutions to be binned and replaced by a new set of political institutions fitting for the new era.

The long, dark, divisive shadow of partition, cast across Ireland’s people for 87 years, receded as Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley affirmed their pledge of office to be joint and co-equal first ministers.

At 11.45am, 16 minutes after proceedings began, all the ministers of the new administration were affirmed. Sixteen minutes of time changed the face of Ireland’s political landscape and set the scene for the next phase of the republican struggle - the countdown to the reunification of Ireland.

From this point forward through the operation of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement - the all-Ireland ministerial council, the executive and assembly - all the people of this island for the first time since partition will be part of a single, island-wide political entity.

Tuesday’s events were never on the radar screen for those who planned partition and its unionist and British practitioners.

In 1932 the newly-opened Stormont building reflected the unionist ethos of the times. To its fore the statue of Sir Edward Carson, to its side the grave of Sir James Craig, all around it unionist east Belfast.

Unionist luminaries protecting a parliament - the preserve of unionists.

On Tuesday the building housed those with a story of a different kind - nationalists. A displaced people, a maligned people, a marginalised people at last found their rightful place at the centre of political power.

As citizens of this nation they were entitled to be there but their ticket of entry was their determination to fight for their rights, to fight for the freedom of this country, to oppose the injustice of partition.

Other republican leaders watched the proceedings in the chamber. Through their efforts they made the burden carried by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness lighter.

Declan Kearney, alongside them, navigated Sinn Féin activists through some of the most difficult decisions in recent times.

Annie Cahill and Bernadette O’Hagan, partners of the late Joe and JB, republicans who spanned almost eight decades of unbroken resistance to partition.

Mark Thompson, whose brother Peter was shot dead by British soldiers, Clara Reilly and Jim Clinton, whose wife Teresa loyalists shot dead, accompanied Paul Doherty and John McKinney whose father Paddy and brother Willie were shot dead on Bloody Sunday.

They are the voices for their loved ones and others shot dead by the crown forces.

The families of hunger strikers Frank Stagg, Thomas McElwee, Joe McDonnell and Kieran Doherty were there as was Barra McGrory whose father PJ represented the families of IRA volunteers Mairead Farrell, Dan McCann and Sean Savage, shot dead in Gibraltar.

Louise Ferguson, whose late partner Michael was an assembly member in the previous assembly, mingled with others like Jean Fagan and Seamie Drumm, whose daughter Sheena Campbell and mother Maire Drumm were shot dead by loyalists.

Leo Green, Sinn Féin’s political adviser at the assembly, also lost his brother John to loyalists.

Fergus O’Hare and Gearoid O Caireallain represented the Irish language community with Jayne Fisher leading a large delegation from England.

An equally large delegation from the US turned out and was personally thanked by Martin McGuinness for their valuable contribution.

Michael Culbert and Rosenna Brown, ex-political prisoners, were there for that huge constituency.

Bobby Ballagh, Ireland’s leading artist, recalled fallow times when revisionists held sway in the south.

Basques and Palestinians still in conflict sought advice from South African government minster Ronnie Kasrils and drew inspiration from the day.

It was an amazing day, packed with incredible scenes.

It coincided with the 20th anniversary of the killing of eight IRA volunteers and a civilian at Loughgall by the SAS.

Wherever republicans go we bring our martyr dead with us not with vengeance in our hearts but with pride.

On Tuesday everyone in Stormont was entitled to feel proud.

It was a good day and a fine start for a New Ireland.

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© 2007 Irish Republican News