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Fresh hope as DUP says yes to Stormont power-sharing deal

Foster: 'We believe there's a basis upon which Assembly and Executive can return'

Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP leadership has signed up to the two governments' deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont.

The party officer team will on Friday recommend to a meeting of the DUP executive and councillors that the agreement be accepted.

The two governments on Thursday night published their proposals to break the political deadlock that has gripped Northern Ireland for three years.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said: "This is a government paper. Our party officers, Assembly and parliamentary representatives considered the paper on Thursday.

"On balance, we believe there is a basis upon which the Assembly and Executive can re-established in a fair and balanced way."

She added: "This is not a perfect deal and there are elements within it which we recognise are the product of long negotiations and represent compromise outcomes. There will always need to be give and take.

"The last three years have been bad for Northern Ireland politics. We need to get moving forward again."

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Sinn Fein Mary Lou McDonald TD said late on Thursday night that her party was "studying the text and will give it careful consideration". She added: "The Sinn Féin Ard Chomhairle will meet tomorrow to fully assess it."

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said his party would consult widely before making any further comments.

Secretary of State Julian Smith and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney held a joint press conference at Stormont as their blueprint was unveiled.

Mr Smith said he had written to the Assembly Speaker Robin Newton asking him to recall the Assembly and hold a plenary session on Friday.

However, some Stormont sources believed that the session could be delayed until Saturday.

Mr Coveney said the agreement - called New decade, New Approach - was "filled with compromises".

He said people needed to tell their politicians to take the opportunity to seal the deal.

"It's now time their politicians stepped up and fully represented their constituents," he said.

"It's time to show leadership and get back to powersharing in Stormont."

Mr Smith said: "I have written to the Speaker asking him to call the Assembly 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."

The Secretary of State said that the deal would transform politics in Northern Ireland.

"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," he said.

"I urge the parties to come together and to form an executive in the best interests of Northern Ireland."

Mr Coveney also appealed to the parties to sign up to the deal. He said it was "based on the extensive discussions and collective work undertaken by the parties since May last year, following the awful murder of Lyra McKee".

The Tanaiste described the draft deal as "a fair and balanced package". He added: "There is no need, and no public patience, for more process and more discussions. It is time for political leadership and a collective commitment to making politics work for people."

In their joint statement, London and Dublin said that accepting the deal would "bring about the parties commitment to immediately end ongoing industrial action by healthcare staff".

They said this included pay parity, a new action plan on waiting times and "delivering much needed reforms on health and social care".

The governments said that reforms to the NHS, education and justice would be prioritised by a new executive.

They pledged that there would be "important improvements in transparency and accountability, and in how civil servants, ministers and special advisers conduct themselves".

In her statement, Mrs Foster said that the proposed Ulster British Commissioner could look at ways to strengthen the Union.

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