“I believe we are starting on a road to bring us back to peace and prosperity,” he added. For all the oratory, the precise moment when former sworn enemies agreed to work together passed in an almost humdrum exchange of formalities. “I affirm the terms of the pledge of office as set out in Section 4 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998,” Paisley said as he was sworn in as first minister, referring to the legislation that established the power-sharing authority. McGuinness echoed the pledge a few seconds later to become Paisley’s deputy. Yet, as they shook hands in a crowd of dignitaries and supporters, there was no sign of them shaking hands with each other. The events on Tuesday at the Stormont Parliament building – once an emblem of Protestant hegemony in Northern Ireland – ended direct rule from London, which was reinstated in October 2002, after the Belfast authority was suspended in a dispute over allegations of espionage by the Irish Republican Army. The proceedings were dominated by two parties – the republicans of Sinn Fein, seeking a united Ireland, and the Democratic Unionist Party, which wants continued union with Britain – that were once seen as bitter adversaries. Paisley and McGuinness reiterated their commitment to their divergent visions of Ireland’s future. BELFAST, Northern Ireland – Paying tribute on Tuesday to the thousands of victims in one of Europe’s bloodiest sectarian conflicts, the leaders of Northern Ireland drew a formal line under decades of hostility and strife, re-establishing a power-sharing local authority of once implacable foes. Watched by dignitaries from Britain, Ireland, the United States and elsewhere, the Rev. Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionists, the dominant party among Northern Ireland’s Protestants, and Martin McGuinness, of the republican and mainly Catholic Sinn Fein party, were sworn in as leader and deputy leader, respectively, of the Northern Ireland executive government. “Today, we will witness not hype but history,” McGuinness said. Paisley, once the most strident voice of Protestant opposition to peace efforts, told reporters, “While this is a sad day for all the innocent victims of all the Troubles, yet it is a special day because we are making a new beginning.” The agreement to share power, struck in late March, followed years of negotiations in which the IRA, affiliated with Sinn Fein, abandoned its armed struggle and said it would embrace politics. Paisley dropped his refusal to share power with his republican foes. Peter Hain, Britain’s Northern Ireland minister, said the deal to restore local government “is going to stick” because “these are the two most polarized forces in Northern Ireland’s politics; they have done the deal.” In 30 years of violence known as the Troubles, more than 3,700 people died in sectarian fighting and conflict with the British Army in Northern Ireland that sometimes spilled into England in bomb attacks. Since cease-fires in the 1990s, successive British governments have struggled to cement the peace, enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday agreement. “It’s a day that no one thought ever to see, Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party in government with Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein,” said Sydney Elliott, a professor of politics at Queen’s University here. “They have a big program of work ahead. A lot of things were neglected over the years of the conflict. There is a lot of pent-up energy here in society to make things work.” Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his Irish counterpart, Bertie Ahern, attended the ceremony, each pursuing political goals. Blair is expected to announce this week that he will step down in June or early July and is seeking to build a legacy of achievement. “Look back, and we see centuries marked by conflict, hardship, even hatred among the people of these islands,” he said in a speech beside Paisley, McGuinness and Ahern. “Look forward, and we see the chance to shake off those heavy chains of history.” Ahern hailed Blair as the driving force behind the Northern Ireland peace effort and declared: “We cannot undo our sad and turbulent past. And none of us can forget the many victims of the Troubles. But we can, and are, shaping our future in a new and better way.” Ahern is seeking a third term in Irish elections on May 24; Sinn Fein is challenging his party. The combination of Paisley as first minister with McGuinness as his deputy offered a once-unthinkable constellation of personalities. Paisley long accused McGuinness of being an IRA “terrorist” and acquired the nickname “Dr. No” for his rejection of the Good Friday agreement and cooperation with his adversaries. The deal between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party followed elections in March that enabled both to say they had a mandate to strike a deal. In chance conversations on the streets of Belfast, Protestants seemed to have more misgivings than did Catholics. Joan McCoubrey, 70, a Catholic retiree who lost a brother in 1971 early in the conflict, said, “I don’t want my grandchildren to go through what I went through.” Isabelle Fagan, 81, said, “We have all suffered, and I think it will work out.” Deborah Harbinson, 48, a Protestant homemaker, had doubts. “There are still a lot of problems left to be tackled,” she said. “There’s still hidden violence and division and few job opportunities.” The United States played an important role at various stages in the Northern Ireland negotiations. President Clinton made three visits to Northern Ireland, and President Bush came here in 2003. In 2005, however, Bush and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., snubbed Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA’s political arm, when he visited Washington to register distaste at the killing of Robert McCartney, a Northern Ireland Catholic, by a group including IRA members. “Northern Ireland has shown the world that peace is possible, even in the face of tragic history,” Kennedy said in a statement after he attended the ceremony as part of an American delegation.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!