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Higgins returns from Irish trip upbeat over accord Buffalo congressman spoke with shapers of Protestant-Catholic power-sharing deal

Rep. Brian Higgins has returned to Buffalo from a trip to Ireland and Great Britain that left him feeling confident that Northern Ireland's sectarian troubles are largely in the past.

Protestants and Catholics are set to enter a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland on May 8, and Higgins said Tuesday that couldn't be more significant.

"It's an end of violence that, depending on your perspective, lasted 30 years or 800 years," said Higgins, who met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahearn and two prominent leaders in Northern Ireland: Protestant Ian Paisley and Catholic Martin McGuinness.

Higgins, D-Buffalo, and several other members of Congress met with Blair in London the day after Iran released 15 British marines and sailors.

But the conversation focused on the new peace agreement in Northern Ireland, which promises to end generations of violence between Catholics and Protestants over whether the region should remain part of the United Kingdom.

Both the United States and Great Britain played a great role in fostering the Northern Ireland power-sharing arrangement, said Higgins, who said it would be an important part of Blair's legacy.

Realizing that the Iraq War is not going well, Blair looked to solve Northern Ireland's problems "to somehow mitigate the damage of that," Higgins said.

He termed the meeting in Blair's home at 10 Downing St. "very upbeat" -- although the prime minister also told an anecdote that showed how deeply Northern Ireland's troubles affected Great Britain.

"He described for us the window that I was sitting underneath -- he said an IRA [Irish Republican Army] mortar came through there about 30 years ago," Higgins said.

Higgins returned to Buffalo on Saturday after a six-day trip to London, Belfast and Dublin. He traveled with seven other members of the Friends of Ireland group in the House of Representatives.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com.

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