Pressure on Sinn Fein to compromise as DUP seal £1bn deal with Tories
Stormont insiders say that the prospects of a deal to save power-sharing have "dramatically improved" following the DUP's historic £1bn agreement with the Tories.
Talks sources said that Sinn Fein was now under considerable pressure to reach a compromise with the DUP before Thursday's deadline.
It is understood that Arlene Foster has spoken to all her MLAs to work out their "bottom line" on an agreement with Sinn Fein on issues such as an Irish Language Act.
"Arlene knows what our MLAs can and can't live with," a party insider said.
Sources from several parties predicted that the DUP-Tory accord could be the catalyst to break the political deadlock at Stormont.
After clinching a deal with Theresa May in Downing Street, Mrs Foster returned immediately to Belfast to rejoin the talks to restore devolution.
The agreement with Mrs May, which took 18 days to hammer out, means an extra £1bn of public funding for Northern Ireland, along with enhanced flexibility on almost £500m of previously allocated cash.
The deal hugely strengthens Mrs Foster's political position and makes it very difficult for the other four parties not to go into an Executive and administer the cash.
Speaking outside Number 10, the DUP leader said that she was "delighted" with what had been secured which, she stressed, had benefits for people across the UK.
"Today we have reached an agreement with the Conservative Party on support for (the) government in Parliament," she said.
"The details of our agreement and future working arrangements will be published in full.
"As part of our policy agreement, both parties have agreed that there will be no change to the pensions' triple lock and the universal nature of the winter fuel payment across the UK."
Mrs Foster said the deal would "boost the economy and invest in new infrastructure as well as investing in the future of our health and education sectors".
The Prime Minister stated that the Tories and the DUP "share many values" and the agreement was "a very good one".
Mrs May said that it would "enable us to work together in the interests of the whole UK, give us the certainty we require as we embark on our departure from the European Union, and help us build a stronger and fairer society at home".
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams claimed that the "price of today's DUP-Tory deal is support for continued Tory austerity and cuts to public services".
He claimed it provided "a blank cheque for a Tory Brexit which threatens the Good Friday Agreement" but, notably, he added: "The allocation of additional funds could help to ease the enormous pressure on our public services. The devil is in the detail."
Under a "confidence and supply" arrangement intended to last until 2022, the DUP guaranteed that its 10 MPs will vote with the government on the Queen's Speech today, the Budget, and legislation relating to Brexit and national security.
Together with the 317 Tory MPs remaining after Mrs May's disastrous decision to call a snap election, this will allow the Prime Minister to pass the 326 figure required for an absolute majority in the House of Commons, protecting her government from collapse.
The £1bn cash injection for Northern Ireland will be administered by the Executive if the devolved institutions are restored by Thursday. If direct rule is reimposed, the money would remain available, but would be controlled from London.
The deal means that the DUP has secured £100m for each of their 10 parliamentary votes.
The party also secured a "coordination committee" which gives it a direct line to the top of the Conservative Party.
Welsh and Scottish nationalists reacted angrily to the deal and demanded similar cash injections for their jurisdictions.
Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones described the payment as a "straight bung to keep a weak Prime Minister and a faltering Government in office".
The Scottish National Party's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, denounced the "grubby" deal. "For years the Tories have been cutting budgets and services, but suddenly they have found a magic money tree to help them stay in power," he said.
Downing Street said the Barnett formula doesn't apply to the new money as it is an addition to Northern Ireland's block grant.
Labour branded the deal "shabby and reckless", and warned it would undermine the trust in the government's impartiality pledged in the Good Friday Agreement.
"For the government to be putting such an agreement in jeopardy just to prop up this dismal Prime Minister is nothing short of a disgrace," Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry told the House of Commons.
However, Dublin took a markedly different stance. The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, suggested the deal could actually help Stormont secure a better deal when the UK leaves the EU.
"An enhanced Northern Ireland voice, articulating an agreed devolved government position, could see more effective and inclusive representation of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland at Westminster," he said.