A new draft Stormont talks agreement has been presented tonight by the Dublin and London governments which outlines new measures to reform the Stormont institutions and calls for support for Irish and Ulster-Scots culture in the north of Ireland, but falls short of an Irish Language Act.
British Direct Ruler Julian Smith has written to the Stormont Speaker Robin Newton asking him to recall the Assembly tomorrow to enable an agreement for its restoration before the weekend.
The text, called ‘New Decade New Approach’, is intended to encourage a deal to avert an Assembly election, which faces a potential deadline of next Monday, January 13. It contains significant financial incentives for the Six County economy as well as the main political parties.
Fine Gael’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney claimed the document represented a “fair and balanced deal” to restore the Assembly and said he wanted to urge the five main parties to seize the opportunity to “get back to work” .
However, Coveney distanced himself and his government from the process, saying “the best place to govern Northern Ireland is here, in Northern Ireland.”
In a joint press conference in front of Parliament Buildings just before 10pm on Thursday, the Fine Gael minister suggested the death of journalist Lyra McKee had been impetus for the restoration of the Six County Assembly. He said Dublin and London had taken the decision to publish the text of the document so that the parties could work with it and use it as a basis for a deal.
The British Direct Ruler told reporters that “we have a document which hopefully...will make all of the [politicians] think carefully about coming back in and the prize was that they could all take responsibility in this new decade for moving things on.”
Smith said he hoped it would “try and encourage all five parties [Sinn Fein, DUP, SDLP, UUP and Alliance] back into the Executive.”
In a prepared response, the DUP leader Arlene Foster said the deal “provides a basis upon which the Assembly and Executive can re-established in a fair and balanced way”.
Ms Foster said it is “not a perfect deal” and there will “always need to be give and take.” She added that elements of the paper will require further scrutiny.
In her response, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “The governments have chosen to publish this text which we have received in the last hour. We are studying the text and will give it careful consideration. The Sinn Féin Ard Comhairle will meet tomorrow to fully assess it.”