Sinn Fein and DUP strike power-sharing deal
Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams today announced an historic agreement that will restore devolution to Northern Ireland in six weeks time.
The DUP and Sinn Fein leaders confirmed the deal in a joint Stormont press conference that would have been unthinkable a few months, if not weeks, ago.
Its significance was swiftly hailed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said: " This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland but also for the people and the history of these islands."
Mr Paisley and Mr Adams sat close to each other at a table, as they read out separate statements, flanked by party members.
The DUP leader said his party had "agreed with Sinn Fein" that devolution would return on Tuesday, May 8. Mr Adams said the agreement " shows the potential of what can now be achieved".
The two parties have asked the Government for a deferment of water charges and are also seeking another meeting with Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown on a financial package for the incoming power-sharing executive.
Today's deal led to Secretary of State Peter Hain dropping his March 26 deadline for the restoration of devolution.
The long road to power-sharing
August 31: The IRA announce "a complete cessation of military activities ", followed 43 days later with a similar ceasefire announcement by the main loyalist paramilitaries.
February 9: The IRA ends its 17-month ceasefire with the bombing of London's Docklands and the killing of two innocent civilians. Government breaks off links with Sinn Fein.
July 20: IRA announces renewal of its ceasefire and the recently elected Blair Government resumes contact with Sinn Fein.
April 10: The Good Friday Agreement paves the way for the establishment of a power-sharing executive, new cross-border links and a British military scale down.
November 29: After much wrangling the Assembly finally meets and nominates executive ministers - only to be suspended the following February by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson because of the IRA's failure to decommission any of its weapons.
May 29: Unionists agree a return to Stormont and resumption of devolution on the basis of the arms issue being dealt with while the Assembly continues to function.
October 14: Devolution again suspended as power sharing falls apart over allegations of an IRA spy ring gathering intelligence at the heart of government.
November 26: Fresh Assembly elections see Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party emerge for the first time as the largest party and Sinn Fein as the major voice of nationalism.
July 28: The Provisional IRA announces a formal end to its armed campaign.
March 6: Following Sinn Fein's decision to endorse the police in Northern Ireland, the province goes to the polls and returns both the DUP and Sinn Fein with increased numbers of seats. Horse trading ahead of the March 26 devolution deadline gets into full swing and four days before the date, Chancellor Gordon Brown unveils a £51bn financial package to entice parties back into power. However, on March 24, the DUP executive signals they will not nominate on March 26 and want power sharing delayed until an agreed date in May.
March 25: Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain signs the order, convening the Assembly to nominate a new power sharing government or come up with an agreed plan for achieving devolution within weeks. The minister warns that if the main parties cannot find an agreed path back to devolution, direct rule by English, Welsh and Scottish ministers would be prolonged.