Breakthrough saves powersharing in N. Ireland

Powersharing at Stormont will survive after the deal
Powersharing at Stormont will survive after the deal

By Alex Stevenson

Agreement over the devolution of policing and justice powers has finally been reached in Northern Ireland, after weeks of strenuous talks.

The Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and Sinn Fein agreed that powers would be transferred on April 12th as the final details of their deal were agreed last night.

First minister Peter Robinson, who resumed full duties again yesterday after the scandal over his wife's infidelity, hailed the breakthrough last night as having been "unanimous".

"They considered the matter and have unanimously considered the way forward," he said in the early hours this morning.

Deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said: "We need to make better for our children... that is what this agreement must mean in practice."

He later added: "This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age.

"I want to work with renewed vigour and enthusiasm with everybody in this process to ensure we continue to take strides forward. One thing is for sure: we are not going back to the past."

Gordon Brown and Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen travelled to Hillsborough Castle, outside Belfast, where talks have been taking place for the last two weeks.

The British prime minister has pledged £800 million to fund the transfer of policing and justice powers. A cross-community vote will take place confirming the deal in the Stormont Assembly on March 9th.

"The parties knew that the people were asking them to come to an agreement," Mr Brown said.

"I think there's been a determination on all sides that the work which was started with the previous agreements... should not be lost.

"I also know we came to an agreement by doing the difficult things. Over these last few days all the difficult issues have been addressed."

Mr Cowen was also full of praise, saying that the "spirit" of previous agreements lived on.

It's about reaching out a hand and helping people get over the line. Making sure that politics is seen to work for people and the priorities they have in their lives is reflected in the conduct of public affairs," he said.

"I want to commend everyone for bringing forward agreements of the kind we've seen this morning that will help us reach that goal."

The Ulster Unionist party have not yet endorsed the deal, however. "We regard their support as being an essential component in the demonstration of community confidence," Mr Robinson said.

Mr Brown added he hoped they would acknowledge that a "tremendous amount of work" has already been done.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has welcomed the deal and proposed an investment conference for Northern Ireland.

"Of course the devil is in the detail but it's the spirit of what we're doing that's important," Sinn Fein's leader Gerry Adams said.

"I appeal to people out there... to take this, to look at it positively. I think they will appreciate this is a very, very good day."


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