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Northern Ireland leaders to meet US president Barack Obama

Northern Ireland's political leaders will meet president Obama on St Patrick's Day following their deal to save the power-sharing government, the White House said.

The president said yesterday's breakthrough was an important step on the path to greater peace and prosperity.

Stormont Assembly First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness travel to Washington DC on March 17.

"The president appreciates the personal contributions and steadfast support of the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown in support of the historic agreement achieved by Northern Ireland leaders today, which is an important step on the pathway to greater peace and prosperity for all communities on the island," a White House statement said.

Party leaders meet in Belfast next week to consider their nomination for justice minister as part of Northern Ireland's power-sharing deal.

Alliance Party head David Ford is favourite for the post but will face Ulster Unionist Party opposition.

The agreement to save the province's government could end years of political stalemate and open a new chapter for all its people, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday.

The decision by the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein will see policing and justice powers devolved from Westminster by April 12, but the blueprint's ambitious plan for action across a number of areas will require continued co-operation between the politicians.

Mr Brown and Irish premier Brian Cowen joined Mr Robinson and McGuinness to unveil the deal at Hillsborough Castle, Co Down, where the parties held nearly two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton praised the agreement which meets republican demands for the transfer of law and order powers, while detailed timetables also set out a framework to meet unionist calls for a new system to oversee loyal order parades.

The Prime Minister said: "The achievements have been as great as they are inspirational. This moment and this agreement belongs to the people of Northern Ireland, all of the people, and now more than ever before, so does their future."

Mr Cowen said the agreement laid the foundations for a new future: "That better future must be built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other's political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance."

Church leaders from across the religious divide welcomed news of the deal. The 21-page document produced today includes systems to try to ensure greater co-operation in the power-sharing government made up of unionist, republican and nationalist politicians. It aims to tackle divisions that it was feared could have forced a collapse of the political institutions.

The blueprint also carries a pledge to deal with outstanding issues, believed to include protection for the Irish language and promoting the Ulster Scots tongue.

Belfast Telegraph


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