Monday 27 January 2020

'History made' as power-sharing deal brokered in North

Assembly will sit today after Sinn Féin and DUP agree to break 36-month impasse at Stormont

‘Take heart’: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed deal. Picture: PA
‘Take heart’: Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald welcomed deal. Picture: PA

Suzanne Breen

Ministers will be appointed in a new power-sharing executive in the North today as devolution is restored at Stormont after three years.

The Assembly is due to sit in plenary session at 1pm after a 36-month impasse when a new speaker and deputy speaker will be chosen.

DUP leader Arlene Foster will then be installed as First Minister and Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill as Deputy First Minister before the other positions are filled.

Stormont sources predicted women would feature prominently in the new appointments. They revealed the justice ministry will remain outside the D'Hondt process.

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It will be offered to either Alliance leader Naomi Long or Independent Unionist MLA Claire Sugden, who held the portfolio in the last administration.

Some insiders last night speculated that Ms Sugden was favourite for the post.

The new executive will include at least three parties after the SDLP said it was willing to take its seat. Nichola Mallon is likely to be the party's ministerial choice.

Sinn Féin and the DUP both voiced their support for the two governments' blueprint yesterday, despite saying it wasn't perfect.

The DUP leadership briefed its executive and councillors on the deal last night. Despite some discomfort among representatives at the agreement during Thursday's internal discussions, the party was relieved there was no public opposition.

Ms Foster conceded there were parts of the deal that would be challenging for the people whom she represents.

"But overall and on the whole I feel that it's a fair and balanced deal and that's why we were able to recommend it to our party officers and to the elected representatives," she said.

"I think people will note that whilst there is a recognition of the facilitation of Irish language, there is also very much a recognition of those of us who are Ulster British and live here in Northern Ireland as well, and there is many mechanisms to strengthen the Union."

Ms Foster responded to criticism of the deal from the Orange Order and TUV leader Jim Allister.

Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said the executive faced many challenges, including the impact of Brexit and austerity.

"But the biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring we have genuine power-sharing built on equality, respect and integrity," she added.

"I believe that the power-sharing government can work. That requires everyone to step up. Sinn Féin's commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen."

Ms McDonald responded to Irish-language activists disappointed in the deal. She said it was only a start and more gains for the language would come in the future.

"I would say to Irish language activists take heart from the fact that this is now a historic moment because for the first time we have official recognition," she said.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said history has been made.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, he said: "History is being made today. We now have confirmation from the two largest parties in Northern Ireland that they both are committed to re-entering an executive and establishing a functioning Stormont again."

Boris Johnson tweeted: "This is a great step forwards for the people of Northern Ireland and for restoring public confidence in stable devolved government and delivering much needed reforms to public services."

Irish Independent

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