Articles 2 and 3 of Constitution are replaced on a day of landmark political developments

 

The Government has replaced Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and made orders setting up new North-South and British-Irish institutions on a day of historic developments in political relations in Ireland and between Ireland and Britain.

The removal of the 62-year-old territorial claim to Northern Ireland and its replacement by a commitment to the consent principle gave effect to the most dramatic change in the definition of Irish nationalism since the foundation of the State. The change was effected by a simple declaration made at a 10-minute Cabinet meeting, bringing into force the amendments approved by the people in the May 1998 referendum.

In an effort to maintain the pace of political development, the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern and the North's First Minister, Mr David Trimble, will hold the first meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council in Armagh on December 13th. Four days later, the British-Irish Council will meet in London, involving discussions between the Taoiseach, the British Prime Minister, and the First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Mr Ahern warned last night that there were "other serious hurdles to be overcome". However, Ireland would "enter a new century on a different footing that takes us out of the trenches and away from the political no man's land". Irish people at home and abroad "will feel a great sense of pride" in yesterday's dramatic events which took place at ceremonies and meetings in Dublin's Iveagh House and Government Buildings, and at the first meeting of the new power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

At the Fianna Fail president's dinner in Dublin last night, at which the North's Deputy First Minister, Mr Seamus Mallon, was guest of honour, Mr Ahern said this week was "the crowning of his political career . . . For the first time, the Northern nationalist community which he represents can look forward to a new political dispensation which promotes their full participation, justice and equality".

The Government yesterday also published legislation to change the Citizenship Acts following the changes to Articles 2 and 3. The amendments to the legislation will provide for the entitlement of every person born on the island of Ireland to be part of the Irish nation.

Meanwhile, the Taoiseach announced that the Government was considering the establishment of an annual Day of Remembrance for all who lost their lives in the Northern conflict. He said this was one of the recommendations of the Victims Commissioner in the Republic, former Tanaiste Mr John Wilson, and the Government was considering an early initiative in relation to it.

On a day which will go down as a major date in Irish history, Mr Ahern said that "whatever path the people of Northern Ireland take in future, that path must be taken freely with the consent of the people, North and South".

The formalities in Dublin began at Iveagh House with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, and the Northern Secretary, Mr Peter Mandelson, signing letters notifying each other that they had put in place all requirements for the coming into force of the British-Irish Agreement.

Mr Mandelson told civil, religious and political leaders in Iveagh House that it was a historic day. "The people of Northern Ireland and the people of these islands as a whole will feel the benefits in their lives of the institutions we are establishing here today," he said.