Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein backs deal to restore powersharing at Stormont

The DUP already signalled its support for a draft deal proposed by the UK and Irish governments.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald (centre), and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (right) speak to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald (centre), and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (right) speak to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

By David Young, PA

Sinn Fein has agreed to back a deal to restore powersharing at Stormont – a move that confirms the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland after a three-year absence.

With the DUP having already signalled its support for a draft deal proposed by the UK and Irish governments, the republican party’s endorsement means the two parties will re-enter a mandatory coalition in Belfast.

Peace process structures mean a ministerial executive can only function with the inclusion of the largest unionist party and largest nationalist party in the region.

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Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald (centre), and deputy leader Michelle O’Neill (centre right) with party colleagues speak to the media at Stormont (Brian Lawless/PA)

Making the announcement on Friday evening, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: “We now have the basis to restore power sharing, and we’re up for that.

“There’s no doubt there are serious challenges ahead; the impact of Brexit, austerity and other pressing issues.

“But the biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring we have genuine power sharing build on equality, respect and integrity.”

She added Sinn Fein was “committed” to Irish reunification efforts and to make sure all people across the north and south divide enjoy the same rights.

The wide-ranging deal, which was published by the governments on Thursday night, contains compromise solutions to the vexed disputes at the heart of the 36-month powersharing impasse, such as legislative provisions for Irish language speakers.

It also includes what the UK government has insisted will be a major Treasury-funded financial package to tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.

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Nurses and supporters on the picket line at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital (Liam McBurney/PA)

That includes a high-profile industrial dispute in the health service which on Friday saw nurses again walk out on strike.

Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

Ms McDonald added they now have “official legal recognition of the Irish language for the first time” and said she wanted to commend activists who campaigned for it.

She said they have reform of the petition of concern to try and “end its misuse as a veto by one political party”.

The last DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That row subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.

PA

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