Belfast Telegraph

DUP accept governments' draft agreement to restore Stormont, Sinn Fein 'studying' text

Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

The UK and Irish governments have tabled a draft agreement to restore the power-sharing at Stormont, which the DUP have accepted.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the deal "is not perfect", but is the basis upon which the Assembly and Executive can be re-established in a "fair and balanced way".

In a statement, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "The governments have chosen to publish this text which we have received in the last hour.

"We are studying the text and will give it careful consideration. The Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle will meet tomorrow to fully assess it."

The news comes exactly three years after Stormont collapsed, however parties will now have to formally sign up to the deal to restore the institutions.

It includes a "new cultural framework", setting up an Office for Identity and Cultural Expression, alongside an the introduction of an Irish Language Commissioner and an Ulster Scots Commissioner.

"This will be made law through an integrated package of legislation that will establish new parts of the Northern Ireland Act," the deal states.

Arlene Foster said they would not have agreed to Irish language legislation as set out by the culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin in 2015.

"It would have elevated the Irish language above English, forced its use upon communities and reduced career opportunities for those who did not speak the language. We note that this is not the case in this paper," she said.

"Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so for as long as people are content and at home living here. Our place in the United Kingdom must not be diminished and that’s where an Ulster British Commissioner can look at ways to strengthen our place in the United Kingdom.

"I value people who cherish their Irish identity. I want them to feel at home in Northern Ireland. I do not want them to feel second class citizens but equally I do not want people, like me, who are British to feel uncomfortable celebrating their Britishness. The way forward must be about facilitation rather than imposition."

The deal also states there will be "meaningful reform" of the petition of concern, which "will not be a veto for any one party".

The Northern Ireland office has published the 62-page text of the deal, entitled "New Decade, New Approach".

Its priorities include:

  • Transforming the health service through settling the ongoing pay dispute, introducing a new action plan on waiting times and creating an extra 900 nursing and midwifery undergraduate places over the next three years.
  • Transforming other public services through resolving the teachers' industrial dispute, addressing resourcing pressures on schools and increasing police numbers to 7,500
  • Investing in the future through developing a regionally-balanced economy and delivering on essential infrastructure projects, including the York Street Interchange project.
  • Delivering a fair and compassionate society though developing an ant-poverty strategy, extending welfare mitigation measures beyond 2020 and investment in social housing

Secretary of State Julian Smith said: “I have written to the Speaker asking him to call the Assembly tomorrow to enable the restoration of the Executive.

"This is a moment of truth for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It is a fair and balanced deal that will ensure key decisions about peoples’ lives can be made.

"It immediately ends the health strike, focuses on reforms to health and social care, ensures more sustainable institutions, better politics and greater transparency and a new framework on language, arts and literature.

"I urge the parties to come together and to form an Executive in the best interests of NI.”

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the deal is based on the "extensive discussions and collective work undertaken by the parties since May last year, following the awful murder of Lyra McKee".

"The Governments believe that it represents a fair and balanced package. There is no need, and no public patience, for more process and more discussions," he added.

"It is time for political leadership and a collective commitment to making politics work for people.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Steve Aiken said: "The Ulster Unionist Party has been given sight of the text of the 'New Decade, New Approach' deal. We will consider this complex and far-reaching document carefully and consult widely within our party before making any further comments.

"If the Assembly is recalled on Friday, the Ulster Unionist Party MLAs will attend and consider the business put before them. "The Ulster Unionist Party is committed to a return of devolution that is fair and sustainable."

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