Political leaders announce agreement
Political leaders announce agreement

The 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen and British prime minister Gordon Brown today launched a deal to implement the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

The deal between the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein includes new plans on overseeing parades and confirming the Six-County executivce will take on policing and justice powers from April 12th.

The deal comes after nearly two weeks of round-the-clock negotiations and brings an end to fears that the power-sharing government could have collapsed after three years of stand-off.

A new six-member working group is to be established to deal with contentious sectarian parades. Its work will begin immediately and will be completed within three weeks. A timetable is laid out for new legislation to deal with the parades issue to become law by the end of the year.

The agreement calls for a review to be held of other outstanding issues from the St Andrews Agreement. It contains no reference to the Irish language.

At a joint press conference outside Hillsborough Castle Mr Brown praised the settlement. He said: “The achievements have been as great as they are inspirational.

“This moment and this agreement belongs to the people of Northern Ireland, all of the people, and now more than ever before so does their future.”

Mr Brown said: “This is the last chapter of a long and troubled story and the beginning of a new chapter after decades of violence, years of talks, weeks of stalemate.”

He predicted that the settlement would help build a lasting peace and is an “essential step for peace stability and security in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Cowen said today’s deal laid the foundations for a new future. “That better future must be built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other’s political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance,” he said.

The North’s First Minister, Peter Robinson of the DUP welcomed the deal and said: it’s “a good day for Northern Ireland”, adding: “We have laid the foundations for a better future for us all.

“There are some who will play politics with this agreement, but the real focus in the months to come must be on building an administration at Stormont that our whole community identifies with and supports.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein said that as an Irish republican he wanted to see a united Ireland but recognised that unionists preferred to maintain links with Britain.

He said he is “a minister for all citizens”. He insisted both communities could and should live together in mutual respect. “We need to confront and defeat all kinds of hatred.”

“We need to make life better for our children and grandchildren,” he added. “That is what this agreement must mean in practice.”

In response to media questions, Peter Robinson refused to shake hands on the deal. He said: “We’re not into the business of stunts.”

Mr McGuinness told journalists: “We are dealing with centuries old difficulties here. If we are to succeed as a government, we have to show people at grassroots level that we can work together. The last thing that we want to do, while the eyes of the world are on us, is to fail.”

DUP assembly member Nelson McCausland said loyalist marching orders would be very satisfied by what had been agreed and it should lead to new legislation on parades.

British Direct Ruler Shaun Woodward said “the game is up” for dissident republicans following last night’s agreement. He said the agreement would ‘absolutely’ make Northern Ireland a safer place, and said it reached out to all communities in the Six Counties.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: “This is a very, very good day”.

“This (agreement) will make a huge difference to the lives of people here if political leaders grasp it.”

He welcomed the DUP’s decision to back the deal and said: “There’s a wonderful chance now in a new spirit for us all to go forward.”

He said there had not been enough movement on the Irish language but that was “work for another day”.

However, the Ulster Unionist party declined to attend the round table meeting with the two premiers. During the negotiations the party consistently complained that it had been kept in the dark.

The Ulster Unionist assembly group is due to meet at Stormont to consider its response later this morning.

The talks which centred on Hillsborough Castle, County Down, are the longest set of continuous negotiations held in the near 20-year peace process.

The final piece in the political jigsaw that sealed agreement came at Stormont’s Parliament Building last night as the DUP Assembly party backed the deal. It followed Sinn Fein’s announcement earlier that negotiations on policing, justice and parades had ended and republicans believed the basis for an agreement existed.

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