Northen Ireland Protestant Leader Rejects Catholic Power-Sharing Deal

The first attempt in years to revive a Catholic-Protestant administration for Northern Ireland failed Monday when Protestant leader Ian Paisley rejected a nomination from his Sinn Fein enemies.

Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA-linked Sinn Fein party, nominated Paisley to become the "first minister" of the envisioned 12-member administration and Sinn Fein's own deputy leader, Martin McGuinness, to be "deputy first minister."

But Paisley immediately rejected the proposal, citing his party's refusal to cooperate with Sinn Fein until it accepts Northern Ireland's police force and encourages Catholic support for it, something Sinn Fein has refused for decades to do.

Paisley also described Sinn Fein leaders as serial killers and bank robbers who must "bow the knee and do what is right." That meant Irish Republican Army must disband, he said.

"You're either for or against," said Paisley, an 80-year-old evangelist who leads the Democratic Unionists, the most popular party in Northern Ireland because of its uncompromising attitude to Sinn Fein. "I'm for democracy; they're against it. I'm against terrorism; they're for it."

Britain last week revived the Northern Ireland Assembly for the first time in 3 1/2 years in hopes that politicians eventually will vote in favor of forming an administration led jointly by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, which represents most Catholics.

That became possible after disarmament officials last year announced they had gotten rid of the IRA's entire weapons stockpile, the issue that fatally undermined Northern Ireland's previous power-sharing administration.

Countrywatch:Northern Ireland

Britain has given Belfast lawmakers until Nov. 24 to elect a Catholic-Protestant coalition as Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord intended. Otherwise, the assembly will be dissolved.

Adams began Monday afternoon's proceedings in Stormont Parliamentary Building by rising to his feet and — in Gaelic, a language that few Catholics, and almost no Protestants, can understand — nominated Paisley.

The assembly speaker, Eileen Bell, asked the 80-year-old Protestant evangelist: "Dr. Paisley, do you accept the nomination as first minister on restoration of a devolved government?" The Protestant benches of Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party, the largest in the assembly, loudly guffawed and heckled.

"Certainly not, madam!" Paisley replied.

Afterward, Adams said, "The Democratic Unionist Party can say `no' only so many times, and then let's say: Wrap it up ... and forget about the assembly."

"We are here to see the executive (administration) formed. Others are here to string it out and engage in distractions. We're absolutely and totally opposed to that," he said.

The U.S. envoy to Northern Ireland, Mitchell Reiss, said he hoped to see progress soon — but stressed he didn't want to put pressure on any party.

"We need to start getting on with business, talking to each other, trying to work out some of the problems today, not leaving them until the last minute," Reiss said after meeting in Dublin with Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern.

Ahern said his government was "under no illusion" that Northern Ireland would face "a fairly difficult period between now and Nov. 24, and that's why the onus is on the parties."

Sinn Fein, which before the peace process began was isolated and demonized as the IRA's political wing, has grown into the biggest Catholic-backed party in Northern Ireland — partly because of the popularity of the IRA cease-fire and partly because of Adams' political cunning and charisma.

The party wants a slice of power in Northern Ireland in hopes of steering the province out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland, which won independence in 1922, a year after the island's partition.