Sinn Fein agree to draft deal to bring back powersharing in Nothern Ireland

10 January 2020, 17:07 | Updated: 10 January 2020, 18:23

Mary Lou McDonald has said a draft deal has been agreed to bring back Stormont
Mary Lou McDonald has said a draft deal has been agreed to bring back Stormont. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Northern Ireland's devolved government is set to be be reinstated for the first time in three years after Sinn Fein agreed to a draft deal.

The DUP had already agreed to back the 62- page draft, which had been proposed by both the UK and Irish governments.

Moments after the announcement was made, the SDLP also said it would be entering the powersharing administration.

Stormont has remained empty since January 2017, when a row over a green energy scheme brought it to a halt.

The arguments then intensified to include matters like the Irish language being taught in schools and the legacy of the Troubles.

But despite this new agreement, there has yet to be any date set for the Assembly to next sit.

The Northern Ireland assembly have not sat since January 2017
The Northern Ireland assembly have not sat since January 2017. Picture: PA

Under the new deal, action will also be taken to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

It will also give legislative provisions for Irish language speakers, including the removal of a 1737 law which bans the use of the Irish language in court.

An Irish language commission will also be appointed to "recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language”.

Another commission will be appointed to “enhance and develop the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster-Scots/Ulster British tradition and to provide official recognition of the status of the Ulster-Scots language”.

Speaking about the Irish language aspects of the deal, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: "Nobody should see this as a threat. This isn't about one-upmanship. This isn't about winners or losers.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre), deputy leader Michelle O'Neill (centre right) and party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald (centre), deputy leader Michelle O'Neill (centre right) and party colleagues speak to the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings. Picture: PA

"This is about a society that makes room for everyone." 

She added today is "a very, very significant and historic day", not just for Irish language speakers but for recognition of Irish identity.

Ms McDonald said: "The Sinn Fein Ard Chomhairle has met today and has taken the decision to re-enter the powersharing institutions and to nominate ministers to the powersharing executive.

"We believe that the changes which have been achieved in the negotiations over the last year build on what was agreed in February 2019."

The Sinn Fein president said: "The first action we believe of the incoming executive must be to deliver pay parity to health workers."

Ms McDonald said: "I want to reject in the strongest possible terms the British Government commitments to the DUP on flags and other issues.

A date has not been announced for the Assembly to reconvene
A date has not been announced for the Assembly to reconvene. Picture: PA

"These are not part of this agreement. Indeed, in our view they fly in the face of the Good Friday Agreement and they represent bad faith. And it is disappointing that the Irish Government acquiesced to these measures.

"But we now have a basis to restore powersharing, and we're up for that.

"There is absolutely no doubt that there are serious challenges ahead - the impact of Brexit, austerity and other pressing issues.

"But the biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring that we have genuine powersharing based on equality, respect and integrity.

"I believe that powersharing can work. That requires everyone to step up. Sinn Fein's commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen."

Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith pictured after reaching a deal
Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith pictured after reaching a deal. Picture: PA

Ms McDonald said her party will continue to work for Irish reunification, adding: "And we want to ensure that the criteria for ensuring the triggering of an Irish unity poll are set out, and that planning for Irish is stepped up, including the convening of a national forum to discuss and plan for the future."

Flanked by party colleagues, she said: "Three years ago, Martin McGuinness set down a challenge to all of us, to get it right and to deliver for all, for every single citizen.

"And now we need to go to work."

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