Irish president tells mostly Protestant council that partnership works


People living in the world's conflict areas, particularly in the Middle East, should draw inspiration from Northern Ireland's ability to compromise after nearly four decades of bloodshed, said the president of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese.

McAleese, a Belfast-born Catholic, said Monday in a speech to a Protestant-dominated city council in Northern Ireland that both parts of Ireland are benefiting from an "emerging culture of courtesy in which wisdom and experience are shared and partnerships encouraged where it makes sense to do so."

The Associated Press reported that McAleese said the Irish Republic wants to invest in better relations since the May 8 revival of a Catholic-Protestant administration in Northern Ireland, which was a goal of the province's 1998 peace accord.

The mostly Catholic south has committed to spending more than 400 million pounds (US$800 million) on improving cross-border roads in the British territory, she said.

"There can be little doubt but that we have entered an unprecedented era, one characterized by the confluence of peace, prosperity, parity of esteem and partnership," McAleese was quoted as saying. "No previous generation has known such a time."

Lisburn, a mostly Protestant suburb of Belfast, hosts the headquarters of the British army in Northern Ireland. The army has been significantly scaled back in recent years and Lisburn's council has 20 politicians from the British Protestant majority, seven from the Irish Catholic minority, and three from the neutral Alliance Party.

Lisburn's mayor, Alliance member Trevor Lunn, invited McAleese to speak in hopes it would encourage greater power-sharing. For decades, Protestant members have refused to let Catholics lead most council committees or hold the annually appointed mayor's post.

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