Protestant and Roman Catholic Church leaders in Northern Ireland have launched a new power-sharing, home-rule government on Tuesday, which it is hoped will end years of sectarian violence.
Ian Paisley, a Protestant cleric, and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness were sworn in as heads of the government in a historic ceremony to mark a day many thought would never come.
The ceremony was overseen by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern who have led the peace process over the past decade.
The ceremony took place at Stormont, near Belfast, an event made possible by an agreement reached in March between Paisley's Protestant Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, the IRA's Catholic political ally, ending years of deadlock.
The Northern Ireland conflict has claimed more than 3,600 lives and bringing an end to the hostilities will go some way to redress Blair’s unpopularity over the war in Iraq.
Until recently, Paisley refused to talk to Sinn Fein, which he viewed as indistinguishable from the IRA - the group behind many of the killings to fight British rule which amounted to nearly half the deaths during the sectarian conflict.
The 1998 Good Friday peace deal first set up the home-rule assembly, but Britain suspended the assembly and resumed direct rule from London in 2002 after Sinn Fein offices at Stormont were raided by police investigating an alleged IRA spy ring.
The new power-sharing government will run Northern Ireland's day-to-day affairs. An agreement has been made whereby ministries will be shared with the DUP running the finance, economy, environment and culture portfolios, while Sinn Fein takes education, regional development and agriculture.