DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness have taken their pledges of office as devolution returned to the North of Ireland.
Five years of direct rule by London appointed ministers officially ended at midnight, paving the way for today’s ceremonies and photo-opportunities intended to draw a line under the past conflict.
“Today we will witness not hype but history,” Mr McGuinness said as he arrived for the day’s events.
Watched by dignitaries from Britain, Ireland, the United States, Palestine, the Basque country and elsewhere, the ministers in the new Executive affirmed their pledges as they took up their posts. The pledge includes a commitment to support the PSNI police and the courts.
The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, were also at Stormont for the launch. In a revealing but highly staged media event, they chatted over tea and biscuits with Mr Paisley, Mr McGuinness and former British Direct Ruler Peter Hain.
Speaking after being confirmed as First Minister, Mr Paisley said it is a time to move on from conflict and put the past behind us.
“In politics as in life, it is a truism that no one can ever have 100 per cent of what they desire,” he said.
“They must make a verdict when they believe they have achieved enough to move things forward.”
He said Sinn Féin’s acceptance of the rule of law met that test.
“Support for all the institutions of policing has been a critical test that today has been met and pledged, word and deed.
“Recognising the significance of that change from a community that for decades demonstrated hostility for policing has been critical in turning the corner.”
Mr Paisley added: “I can say to you today that I believe Northern Ireland had come to a time of peace, a time when hate will no longer rule.
“How good it will be to be part of the wonderful healing in this province today.”
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair paid warm tributes to each other during their speeches in the Great Hall at Stormont, which followed a moving performance of choral singing.
Mr Blair said relations between Britain and Ireland during the past decade have been transformed.
“Today we are partners and we are friends,” he said. “Bertie has always been there, ready to surmount yet another obstacle. By his actions he showed the willingness to engage, to understand and to reconcile. Bertie, thank you,” Mr Blair said.
Returning the praise, Mr Ahern said peace and democracy in the North of Ireland would not be possible without the commitment and dedication of Mr Blair.
He said:”I thank him for the true determination that he had, for just sticking with it for 10 tough years.
“He has spent more time dealing with the issues of the island, far more time than anybody could have asked any other person to do.”
Speaking at the Stormont Assembly, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said today was “another significant landmark in the process of transforming life on this island”.
“Today is a good day for Ireland,” he said. “I want to thank and commend everyone who worked to achieve this.”
“I want also to remember everyone who was hurt or killed in the conflict. Over the weekend I spent time in County Tyrone with families of IRA volunteers killed 20 years ago today at Loughgall.
“Days like today must be about ensuring that events like Loughgall are never visited on another generation.
“I genuinely believe that we are all shaping a real process of national reconciliation and building a new relationship between the people on this island and between Ireland and Britain.
“There are clearly many challenges ahead but have no doubt that all these challenges can be overcome.”
* There was a bomb alert today at Loughgall. British Army bomb disposal experts carried out a controlled explosion following the alert, which was described as an elaborate hoax.