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Timeline: How the Northern Ireland deal unfolded

The breakthrough deal that saved Northern Ireland's power-sharing government from collapse came after the longest round of continuous negotiations in the history of the peace process.

The epic summit at Hillsborough Castle was convened on the back of two turbulent months that saw the Stormont Executive plunged into crisis by the bitter wrangle between the DUP and Sinn Fein over the stalled devolution of policing powers.

The political drama was played out against the backdrop of a series of shocking personal revelations about high-profile figures in both parties.

Here are the key events in another remarkable chapter in the efforts to forge a more stable future for Northern Ireland:


December 7: Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness warns of deep trouble for the power-sharing administration unless a date for devolving justice and policing is agreed by Christmas.

December 14: A routine media conference turns ugly when Mr McGuinness and DUP First Minister Peter Robinson engage in a very public spat over the failure to secure a timetable for the transfer.

December 18: Gerry Adams faces criticism for his handling of sex abuse allegations against his brother Liam when his estranged sibling's daughter and alleged victim Aine Tyrell goes public with the historic claims. The Sinn Fein president, who later reveals that his own father subjected family members to abuse, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

December 28: DUP announces that Iris Robinson - Strangford MP and wife of the First Minister - is stepping down from public life because she is suffering from mental illness.


January 6: Mrs Robinson, 60, issues a sensational statement admitting having an affair and revealing that she tried to commit suicide on the night her husband found out. Mr Robinson then gives an emotional interview vowing to stand by his wife.

January 7: Mrs Robinson's lover is revealed as 21-year-old Kirk McCambley (he was 19 at time of affair). A BBC documentary also discloses that the politician obtained £50,000 from two wealthy developers to help her toyboy set up a business, keeping £5,000 in cash as a cut and failing to declare her financial interest in the matter. The Spotlight investigation implicates Mr Robinson, alleging that he did not alert the appropriate authorities to his wife's dealings when he became aware of them. The DUP leader refutes the claims.

On the same day, senior DUP figure Lord Morrow says he does not envisage devolution in the lifetime of the current assembly (next election is scheduled for 2011).

January 8: High-profile Catholic police officer Peadar Heffron is critically injured in a dissident republican car bomb attack near his home in Randalstown, Co Antrim.

Mr Robinson vows to clear his name and commissions an independent lawyer to probe his conduct.

January 11: Mr Robinson steps down as First Minister for six weeks to give him time to care for his wife. DUP Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster takes over his duties. Remaining as DUP leader, he makes clear that he will continue to be involved in devolution negotiations.

That night, DUP and Sinn Fein meet for the first meaningful talks of the new year.

January 12: Party representatives meet for further negotiations as hopes rise of a breakthrough.

While hardline DUP MP Gregory Campbell insists there is still not enough confidence in the unionist community for the transfer of policing powers, his party colleague and Finance Minister Sammy Wilson strikes a more positive note.

Gerry Adams says talks are at a "sensitive and serious" stage.

January 13/15: Negotiations continue, with both sides expressing hope that a deal can be achieved.

January 16: Peter Robinson briefs party colleagues on progress of the talks

January 17: Senior DUP, Ulster Unionist and Conservative politicians hold secret talks in England about establishing greater pro-union co-operation in Northern Ireland.

January 19: After days of upbeat noises from the DUP and Sinn Fein, first signs of trouble in the talks emerge. Despite rumours of tension round the negotiating table, DUP Environment Minister Edwin Poots denies there has been a "wobble".

January 22: Sinn Fein deputy president Mary Lou McDonald says the DUP is not yet ready to step up to the plate and meet its commitments. But Mr Robinson insists his party is prepared to work through outstanding issues and expresses disappointment at Sinn Fein's claim that the latest round of talks are over.

January 23: After a meeting of Sinn Fein's executive council - the Ard Chomhairle - Martin McGuinness demands a crisis summit with DUP leader Mr Robinson.

January 25: Mr McGuinness and Mr Robinson's meeting at Stormont lasts less than an hour, breaking up without progress.

After holding talks at Downing Street, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Irish premier Brian Cowen announce that they are flying to Northern Ireland to meet the leaders.

The two governments convene the talks summit at Hillsborough Castle insisting that progress can be made.

January 26: A round-table meeting involving all the parties is chaired by the two premiers. Despite this outward sign of progress, a final solution is apparently no closer, with the issues of contentious parades still proving problematic.

January 27: The final plenary session involving the parties and two premiers ends in acrimony, with Sinn Fein branding negotiations a dismal failure.

Mr Brown and Mr Cowen leave without a settlement but insist a pathway to agreement has been laid. They give the parties two days to find a resolution or else they will publish their own joint proposals for moving the process forward.

January 29: With the DUP and Sinn Fein still negotiating intensively at Hillsborough, the governments allow the deadline to slip amid hopes of progress. The marathon summit becomes the longest continuous round of talks in the history of the peace process.

January 30: After more than 100 hours of negotiations, both the DUP and Sinn Fein hint at a breakthrough. Both claim that significant progress has been made, prompting speculation that a deal could be close.

February 1: Peter Robinson is confronted with significant rebellion within his own party ranks when he presents a proposed agreement to his fellow assembly members. Fourteen DUP MLAs (40%) vote against the deal in a secret ballot with the party's assembly group.

February 3: Mr Robinson resumes his position as First Minister after claiming the first of a series of probes into his involvement in his wife's financial affairs has cleared him of wrong doing.

Secretary of State Shaun Woodward warns that a £800 million financial package offered by treasury for policing and justice in the region will be withdrawn if devolution does not happen.

February 4: Sinn Fein claim negotiations are over and the basis for a deal now exists.

After final talks with the British government, the DUP calls another meeting of its assembly group at Parliament Buildings at Stormont.

At ten minutes to midnight, Peter Robinson emerges from the two hour briefing to announce that his party colleagues had unanimously backed the agreement with Sinn Fein.

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