Belfast’s old foes to mark historic deal with trip to the White House

Barack Obama last night set the American presidential seal of approval on Northern Ireland's political breakthrough by commending those involved and inviting them to the White House next month.

His praise for what he termed "an important step on the pathway to greater peace and prosperity for all communities on the island" came after days and nights of tortuous negotiations finally met with success.

President Obama will meet First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Washington on St Patrick's Day, as well as Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen. Mr Cowen and Gordon Brown travelled to Belfast yesterday with Mr Brown declaring the deal would close "the last chapter of a long and troubled story".

The two parties which had been at odds for many months, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, both signalled their satisfaction with an intricately composed 21-page document. Thrashed out during exhaustingly long sessions, it lays down that powers over policing and justice are to be transferred from London to Belfast on 12 April. This is in line with the goals of Sinn Fein, London and Dublin.

At the same time, DUP concerns on Protestant marching rights have been addressed, with provisions for consultations designed to lead to new legislation. The Orange Order, which stages several thousand parades annually, welcomed the provisions as a positive step forward.

The document contains various timetables aimed at ensuring progress on these issues. A policing and justice ministry is to be established to join existing Assembly departments which administer areas such as education and agriculture. Since it has long been agreed that the first justice minister should not be a member of Sinn Fein or the DUP, he or she is expected to come from one of the Assembly's smaller and more centrist parties.

Supporters of the peace process, and of the Assembly which is its centrepiece, were mightily relieved by the success of the negotiation, which went through many rocky moments. One of the most alarming came on Monday night when the DUP leader, Peter Robinson, asked his 36-strong Assembly party to approve a draft document, only to find that 14 were unhappy with provisions which had been approved by London, Dublin and Sinn Fein.

Discussions lasted several days but did not produce substantial changes. At the same time, Mr Robinson worked on the sceptics in the DUP ranks to persuade them that it was the best deal available. A second meeting of Assembly members late on Thursday agreed unanimously to support the deal. This turnaround is seen as a striking tactical achievement by Mr Robinson, who just weeks ago seemed destined to be deposed following scandals surrounding his wife, Iris. Several hardline DUP figures had repeatedly vowed they would not accept devolved policing.

Jim Allister, a hardline loyalist critic, declared: "The deal the DUP so meekly accepted is the same deal they rejected on Monday. The deal hasn't changed, only the snowmen of the DUP who melted once the heat came on."

Mr Robinson delivered a ringing endorsement of the accord, saying: "No future generation would forgive us for squandering the peace that has been so long fought for. No sane person wants to go back to the carnage, violence and instability that we have endured over recent generations." The Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams, added: "There's a wonderful chance now in a new spirit for us all to go forward."

The deal was welcomed by Matt Baggott, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Conservative leader, David Cameron, and the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. But the Ulster Unionists, sister-party of the Tories in Northern Ireland, said they were reserving their position on the deal, complaining that they had not been consulted on its contents.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee