Stormont back in business after months of deadlock
Northern Ireland's devolved government emerged from five months of suspended political animation yesterday with the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein resuming their seats around the cabinet table.
The ruling executive got back to business following the announcement by First Minister Peter Robinson and his deputy, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, of a measure of agreement on policing and justice.
The tone of the encounter was markedly constructive, with both sides emphasising the need to address a series of mostly economic issues. The credit crunch took up more than half of the meeting, which lasted three and a half hours.
The principal source of disagreement has been over the transferring of policing and justice powers to the Belfast executive. The DUP and Sinn Fein agreed in principle that powers should be transferred but the DUP favoured a longer timetable, arguing that time was necessary to build more public confidence.
The two parties also objected to the idea of the other holding the justice post. In particular the DUP was dead against the possibility of Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly, a one-time IRA jail-breaker, taking over policing.
There was also an impasse over a series of lesser issues, such as education, the status of the Irish language and the future of the Maze prison.
While these remain unresolved, yesterday's negotiations produced an agreed document containing a road-map with more than 30 points, leading towards policing devolution.
It lays out a path, involving six groups of actions, towards the transfer of powers, including legislation in both London and Belfast. It had already been agreed that for some time neither Sinn Fein nor the DUP will hold the justice post.
Since the document does not contain an actual deadline for the transfer of powers there have been claims that during the negotiations Sinn Fein fared less well than the DUP. The general sense, however, is that it is in essence a reasonable compromise.
The stand-off has been a trial of strength between the parties. Mr Robinson replaced Ian Paisley as First Minister in June, and republicans were clearly intent on demonstrating that he will not dominate them.
Yesterday's message, delivered amicably by Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness, was that normal political business has now been resumed. The pace will in fact be stepped up, with extra meetings of the executive scheduled to deal with the backlog.
The parties have put a joint request to Gordon Brown to provide Northern Ireland with more money. They met him in Downing Street on Wednesday, and reported yesterday that he had agreed to £900m of additional funds.
Their emphasis on economic matters, and a co-operative approach, was stressed when they jointly opened a production plant in Belfast yesterday.
Saying that he believed problems had been resolved, Mr McGuinness said: "We've had our difficulties... but I believe we have resolved them to the satisfaction of both parties."
Mr Robinson said: "There was support from all for the work that we had done in securing the arrangements with the Prime Minister and Treasury, which perhaps takes some of the pressure off as we move on to the next stage of the credit crunch."
In particular, ministers claimed credit for achieving a further deferment of the introduction of water charges in Northern Ireland.
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
- 3 Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
- 4 Amy Winehouse unpublished 2004 interview: ‘Ten years from now I’ll be 30, so I’ll maybe have one baby’
- 5 Dutch paedophile club to fight their ban at the European Court of Human Rights
Lana Del Rey: 'I have slept with a lot of guys in the industry'
Peaches Geldof cause of death: 'Heroin addict' socialite had taken fatal dose of drug, inquest concludes
Peaches Geldof inquest: Tragic final moments of socialite's life reveal she lied to husband about failed heroin tests
Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Was a Russian-made missile really parked in this quiet square?
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...
£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...
£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...