Stormont talks breakthrough: Simon Coveney and Julian Smith present new deal

Agreement is ‘filled with compromises’ but is ‘fair, balanced and inclusive’,Tánaiste says

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary Julian Smith outside Stormont parliament buildings in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Northern Secretary Julian Smith outside Stormont parliament buildings in Belfast. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

The text of the agreement to restore the North’s power-sharing government has been published by the two governments, three years after the collapse of Stormont.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the document represented a fair and balanced deal to restore the Assembly and he wanted to urge all the parties to “grab” the opportunity to get back to work.

The Northern Secretary Julian Smith said he has written to the North’s Speaker Robin Newton asking him to recall the Assembly tomorrow to enable its restoration before the weekend.

The 50-page deal also contains commitments from both governments.

There is a “major financial package” available from the British government if the Assembly is restored. The Irish Government, Mr Coveney said, would also provide a three-year financial package to invest in key infrastructure projects in Northern Ireland.

In a joint press conference in front of Parliament Buildings just before 10pm on Thursday, he said the document was filled with compromises, but they were fair compromises.

He paid tribute the murdered journalist Lyra McKee and the impetus towards the restoration of the Assembly after the North’s politicians were “called out” at her funeral, and said it was now time for them to show leadership and to get back to power sharing.

He and his Northern counterpart, he said, 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 to restore the Assembly.

Mr Coveney said the deal was called “New Decade New Approach”

“The best place to govern Northern Ireland is here, in Northern Ireland.” he said.

“The document you are receiving today is relatively short but the path to get us here is longer than many people would have thought.”

He said the “odd argument” had taken place along the way, but the document represented a “fair and balanced deal”. He urged political leaders and their teams to “grab this opportunity”.

Mr Smith 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.”

They hoped it would “try and encourage all five parties back into the Executive.”

Positive tone

Shortly before, a positive tone had been struck by a coalition of around 12 representatives from the business, farming, trade union, community and education sectors met with representatives of the five main parties.

Speaking to reporters after their meeting, Redmond McFadden, of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said that while “nothing is confirmed at this stage” and the next hours would prove to be “crucial”, the group were leaving in a “buoyant mood”.

“We had a very positive meeting with the parties,” he said, “and we look forward to the restitution of the government in the very near future.”

Among the politicians, he said, there was a “genuine willingness to achieve something over the next few hours not only from the parties but from both of the governments as well.”

If the deal was delivered “in the near future”, he said, “we would ask all of the community to get behind the deal and to support our politicians.”

Earlier, sources said that most of the text of the document was settled but that there were “presentational problems” that in particular were causing anxiety for the DUP.

“I think it is a matter of presentation rather than substance; I don’t think there is any sense that things are beginning to fall apart,” said one well-placed source.

In a teatime statement, DUP Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the party was working hard to get a “fair and balanced deal for the people of Northern Ireland, a deal that a majority of people across the province can support”.

“We don’t want to sign up to a deal only to find that in a few months time that we have another political crisis,” he said.

“Those are the kind of issues and priorities that we need to ensure are being properly and adequately addressed before we can put our hand to a deal that we believe will have the support of a very clear majority of people in Northern Ireland.”

Three years ago on this date, the late Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin resigned as deputy first minister in a row with the DUP over the calamitous renewable heat incentive scheme, a resignation that precipitated the breakdown of Stormont.

There have been several attempts since then to reinstate Stormont but hurdles such as Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish language Act, ensuring the sustainability of a restored Assembly, and issues over the petition of concern, could not be surmounted. The latter is the mechanism that allows motions to be vetoed even if they have majority support in the Assembly.