Deal on Stormont return includes ‘significant’ changes, while Varadkar and Sunak clash on Legacy Act

Heaton-Harris says details of deal to address DUP’s concerns over post-Brexit trade will be published on Wednesday


Powersharing is set to return to Northern Ireland after the DUP accepted a UK deal to re-enter the Assembly and Executive.

The party has blocked the functioning of devolved government in the North for almost two years in protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson announced the move at a press conference in the early hours of Tuesday following a meeting of the party’s executive.

He said subject to the “binding commitments” between the DUP and the UK government being “fully and faithfully delivered ... the package of measures in totality does provide a basis for our party to nominate members to the Northern Ireland Executive, thus seeing the restoration of the locally elected institutions.”

The detail of the deal is due to be published on Wednesday, and with the other Northern parties due to meet on Tuesday, the expectation is the Assembly and Executive will be operational again by the current deadline of February 8th.

The return of Stormont will trigger the release of a £3.3bn (€3.84bn) financial package from the UK government, with a significant chunk allocated to settle the ongoing disputes over public sector pay that saw Northern Ireland brought to a near-standstill earlier this month in the largest strike in a generation.

Main points

  • Powersharing in North is set to return after DUP backs UK government deal
  • Northern Ireland parties to meet today following breakthrough
  • Jeffrey Donaldson: ‘decisive’ backing of party executive secured last night
  • Deal aims to address DUP concerns over post-Brexit trade barriers
  • North Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris welcomes ‘significant step’
  • Mary Lou McDonald: Stormont could return before February 8th

Best Reads


That is it for our live coverage of political events in Northern Ireland today which saw the DUP end its prolonged boycott of Stormont having struck a deal on trade arrangements.

Stay with us for further coverage and updates as they emerge. In the meantime, for a summary of today’s substantial events, read our correspondent Seanín Graham’s wrap-up.

Claims that a united Ireland is within “touching distance”; the deal that broke the two-year freeze of power-sharing; and a potential recall of the Assembly as early as Saturday. It is all here.


A fascinating piece here from Gerry Moriarty on Jamie Bryson “the loyalist blogger and activist” who live-tweeted proceedings at the DUP executive meeting that handed Jeffrey Donaldson permission to return to Stormont.

“As Bryson posted his minute-by-minute tweets as fast as his fingers could fly around his computer or smart phone keyboard, DUP members inside the venue were aghast, confused and very angry indeed at this almost live streaming of a supposedly private and rather highly strung gathering,” he writes.

You can read the whole article here.


Sinn Féin has said a united Ireland is “within touching distance” as the party prepares to claim the post of Northern Ireland first minister for the first time, the Guardian reports.

Mary Lou McDonald said on Tuesday that the expected restoration of power sharing in the wake of a deal between the Democratic Unionist party and the UK government came amid a “historical turning of the wheel” that would unite the island.

“In historic terms, it is within touching distance and I think that is a very exciting thing and I hope people will find that a very welcoming conversation,” the Sinn Féin leader said.

According to a speedy political choreography that is supposed to unfold at Westminster on Wednesday and Thursday, her deputy, Michelle O’Neill, could become first minister of the Stormont executive by the weekend.

“That will be a moment of very great significance, not simply because we haven’t had government for so long but because it will be the first time that we will have a Sinn Féin first minister, a nationalist first minister,” McDonald said.

O’Neill became the region’s putative first minister when Sinn Féin overtook the DUP as the biggest party in the 2022 assembly election. But a DUP boycott to protest against post-Brexit trading arrangements mothballed Stormont.


Some confusion around initial reports of a Rishi Sunak appearance on Tuesday. A UK government source has told our Northern Editor, Freya McClements, that Mr Sunak is not coming to Northern Ireland tonight.


Further strike action by public bus and train drivers will “definitely go ahead” across Northern Ireland on Thursday despite the possible restoration of Stormont within days, a trade union leader has said.

Seanin Graham reports that Alan Perry from GMB said the pledged release of almost £600 million by the UK government to resolve the North’s public sector pay row – dependent on the return of the powersharing institutions – does not affect his union’s position.

“Our members or even ourselves have yet to get sight of what exactly is in the £600 million offer that is for public sector workers. And until such times that we are able to start negotiating with the employers, then strike action will continue as effectively we’re still in dispute,” he told the BBC.

“We’re in dispute right across the public sector, whether that be in health or the civil service or indeed Translink.”

Mr Perry’s comments came after DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson said talks between political parties at Stormont Castle this afternoon included a major focus on the public sector pay award.

Addressing media, he said that he has engaged with Northern Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on the need to transfer money to settle the dispute.

Earlier this month more than 170,000 public sector workers took part in a mass walkout over pay parity and vowed to continue strike action.


UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is set to visit Northern Ireland to close the deal with the DUP, Bloomberg has reported.

The visit late on Tuesday comes hours after the DUP leadership agreed to end its protest, subject to the UK delivering on a package of incentives including a £3.3 billion (€3.9 billion) funding boost. A meeting between the DUP, Sinn Fein, Alliance and the Ulster Unionist Party at Stormont Castle, east of Belfast, broke up without announcing a date for reforming the assembly and government.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has spent the time since talks with his party concluded overnight by talking up the concessions he had won from Sunak’s government. That reflects the fact that while he has pledged to return to the power-sharing administration, he still faces criticism from inside and outside the DUP who see the protest over Brexit rules as a key chance to reaffirm unionist red lines on sovereignty.

“Those who said there will be no legal change, who were predicting things would fall short, I simply asked people to wait and see,” Donaldson told reporters outside Stormont. “Wait and see the evidence and judge for yourself what this deal does, what it delivers, the change that it secures.”


So have you forgotten all about this “Irish Sea border” issue and just why it took such a central role in the whole affair?

Cliff Taylor explains that, as part of Brexit, the EU and UK agreed to checks on goods, food and animals crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland to ensure there was no need for a trade border on the island of Ireland.

Simple. But if still a little rusty on the whole thing, you can read Cliff’s full explainer here.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told the Dail that he and British prime minister Rishi Sunak have agreed to work together on “issues of mutual interest and concern”.

That follows our previous report from London Correspondent Mark Paul about a somewhat strained back and forth between the two leaders.

Mr Varadkar’s telling of that conversation in the Dail was a little less colourful, as one might expect.

“I had a chance to speak with the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak earlier today. He briefed me on the situation and we agreed to continue to work together on issues of mutual interest and mutual concern such as this,” he said.

“It is hoped that we can have the institutions up and running and the necessary legislation passed in Westminster before [the] 8th of February. It is very positive that as we enter the spring, there is new hope that the Good Friday Agreement can get working again. I think we all agree that this would be very desirable.”

He said that as well as helping to restore devolved government, Tuesday’s development would also allow the North-South bodies and the North South Ministerial Council to work again.

“Many of the problems people face in Northern Ireland are very similar to those we face here and it is important that they have a democratic and devolved government up and running to deal with those very real issues,” he said.


Sunak and Varadkar clash in call to discuss the North

Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak clashed with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in a phone call to discuss the North earlier today, a readout of the call from 10 Downing Street suggests, writes Irish Times London correspondent Mark Paul.

According to a spokeswoman for the prime minister, Mr Sunak expressed his “disappointment” to Mr Varadkar over the Government’s decision to take legal action against the UK over its Legacy Act, which gives immunity to, among others, British soldiers for acts committed during the Troubles.

Mr Sunak admonished the Taoiseach during the call for taking the case “at such a sensitive time” in negotiations over the North and the future of the Stormont assembly.

The UK prime minister, according to the British readout, pressed Mr Varadkar on why the Government is “yet to respond to important questions” that the UK says it has raised, in particular over a lack of prosecutions in the Republic over the Omagh bombing. The readout from Number 10 said Mr Sunak’s government would “continue to pursue” the Government in the Republic for answers.

When it was suggested by reporters that the call between Mr Varadkar and Mr Sunak sounded “testy”, and that the language in the readout was unusually strong in terms of international diplomacy, Mr Sunak’s spokeswoman said it was a “good call” but that the UK government remains “disappointed” in the course of action taken by the Republic over the Legacy Act.

The spokeswoman went on to say that the full text of the deal struck with the DUP to restore Stormont would be published tomorrow and would get the “usual scrutiny” of parliament in Westminster, although she did not explicitly state when asked if there would definitely be a vote on it in the House of Commons.


Our Europe Correspondent Naomi O’Leary writes:

The European Commission and officials from EU member states said they were not involved in the negotiations between the London government and the Democratic Unionist Party, and would examine the contents of the deal once it was shared by the British government.

“We’re following closely the developments in Northern Ireland. Of course, we’re not party to those discussions but we continue to follow the events as they unfold,” said European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie.

“Restoring the political institutions, restoring devolved power in Northern Ireland would provide long term stability and would therefore be a welcome development.”

The British government is expected to publish texts related to the deal and the Commission would “will examine these texts when the time comes”, he said.

EU officials have previously said that the British government can freely tweak how it organises the implementation of post-Brexit arrangements within the United Kingdom market with no need to consult Brussels, as long as external trade is not affected.

Any changes to external trade with the EU would require the approval of the EU, however, and in the past member states have been highly reluctant to re-open previously concluded agreements.


Colin Neill, chief executive of Hospitality Ulster, welcomed the agreement and the prospect of the return of Stormont.

“The hospitality sector has struggled to keep its head above water with spiralling costs, a protracted cost of living crisis, transportations strike, and dwindling budgets,” he said. The lack of government in Northern Ireland had “exacerbated” the range of problems, he said.

“This forward momentum is good news, and we look forward to working with local MLAs and Ministers who can make vital and timely decisions to stabilise our economy and invest in the hospitality sector here,” he said.

In a statement, business group NI Chamber said the incoming Executive would need to sort out the “pressing issue” of public sector pay immediately.

“Whilst we await clarity on the details of the proposed deal, it is our hope that it helps to unlock Northern Ireland’s economic potential, underpinned by its unique capabilities and strengths,” it said.


Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald has said it will be a moment of “very great significance” when her party colleague Michelle O’Neill becomes the first nationalist to take the office of First Minister at Stormont.

Addressing media in Stormont’s Great Hall, she said that Northern Ireland was built on the basis of creating an “inbuilt permanent unionist majority” but “that day had now gone”.

“I think a Sinn Féin First Minister and Michelle coming into office as First Minister for all really is the most striking evidence that that era is now gone; it is now consigned to the pages of the history books,” she said.

“And more importantly it signals now a new Ireland emerging and the conversation around a new constitutional dispensation…Irish unity, all of the opportunity that presents is in many ways embodied in this moment.”

Ms O’Neill said the next few days are crucial to get the powersharing institutions up and running. “We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, a slog ahead of us, but collectively we can do better for the people we serve. Collectively, we can fight back against this Tory austerity agenda, collectively we can stand up and fight hard for public services,” she said.

- Northern correspondent Seanín Graham .

After the press conference dozens of schoolgirls from Mount Lourdes Grammar in Enniskillen, who were on a visit to Stormont, asked to meet the two Sinn Féin leaders, who posed for photographs.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke to UK prime minister Rishi Sunak about the restoration of Stormont by phone earlier today. A spokesman said Mr Varadkar had a “good call” with Mr Sunak discussing the developments.

“The Taoiseach and Prime Minister welcomed the developments overnight, and both leaders said they hope this paves the way for the early restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly, and that North-South Ministerial meetings will resume again. They agreed to keep in touch over the coming period,” the spokesman said.


Government received ‘clear commitments’ Windsor deal remains intact - Martin

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the Government had received “very clear commitments” on the status of the Windsor Framework, the 2023 deal that governs post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Martin said he hoped Stormont would be back up and running “relatively quickly”.

When it came to the UK government’s recent talks with the DUP, Mr Martin said the previously agreed framework remained intact. “We’ve received very clear commitments in respect of the Windsor Framework”, the Fianna Fáil leader said.

Mr Martin, who is also Minister for Foreign Affairs, said unionist politicians had made a “significant impact” on the shape of the framework early last year, which itself had been aimed at ironing out issues with the previous Northern Ireland protocol.

The Government did not have difficulty with any “further streamlining” of trade checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, he said. Mr Martin added he had been “apprised” of commitments and guarantees the DUP had sought in its recent talks.


NI Assembly 2022 election refresher

The return of the Assembly would mean MLAs elected in May 2022 will finally take their seats, with Sinn Féin the largest party in the parliament for the first time.

Sinn Féin won 27 seats in the last Assembly elections, while the DUP won 25 seats. The Alliance Party had a great election and won 17 seats, while the Ulster Unionist Party won nine seats and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) took eight seats. TUV won one seat and Independents and Others took three seats.

Northern Ireland uses the d’Hondt system of allocating ministries in the devolved government, which means ministerial posts are proportionally distributed between the various parties. Under that system the party with the highest number of seats is the first to pick a ministry, and then essentially rejoins the queue as further posts are divided up. The process continues until all ministerial positions have been allocated.

As the largest party Sinn Féin will hold the position of First Minister for the first time, with the post of Deputy First Minister being held by the DUP.


Speaking at a press conference at College Green in Westminster this afternoon, Chris Heaton-Harris, British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said the deal included “significant” changes.

When asked whether the EU had been consulted about the proposed changes, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I and government colleagues talk to our European Union partners on a regular basis and I will continue to do so ... We talk about all sorts of things.”

Mr Heaton-Harris faced repeated questions about what exactly had changed in the post-Brexit trade relationship under this new deal. “There are some significant changes but ... You will have to wait until the all-party talks are finalised. When I publish the deal in parliament, everyone will see what it is,” he said. The details would be published on Wednesday, he said.

There had been “a very long conversation with the Democratic Unionist Party, [about] how we can make better Northern Ireland’s place in our internal market,” he said.

Here is a quick take from one of the journalists who was at the press conference, Sam Coates, deputy political editor of Sky News:


Jim Allister – leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), a more hardline party to the right of the DUP – described the deal as a “betrayal”. In a statement early this morning Mr Allister said the DUP had “caved in” when it came to the Irish Sea border. “Seems not one word of the Union-dismantling Protocol has been removed,” he said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

However, rather than external criticism, the thing to watch for over today and the rest of this week will be whether any internal rift in the DUP breaks out publicly.


Reaction is still rolling in this morning, with the latest statement landing from Claire Cronin, US ambassador to Ireland.

“I welcome last night’s decision by the DUP. The people of Northern Ireland are best served by a powersharing government in Stormont as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

The ambassador said US president Joe Biden had “long made clear his support for a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland in which all communities have a voice and enjoy the gains of the hard-won peace”.


Despite the white smoke on the potential restoration of powersharing, trade unions have signalled planned strikes may still go ahead this week.

Davy Thompson of the Unite trade union said news of the DUP agreement was not enough for the unions to call off strike action on Thursday, “because we don’t know when that government will be formed”.

“Until there is government in Northern Ireland, there is no government in Northern Ireland,” he said on Tuesday.


DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said the deal his party struck would mean “zero” post-Brexit checks on goods coming into Northern Ireland from Britain, our Northern Correspondent Seanín Graham reports.

Speaking to the BBC this morning after last night’s lengthy meeting his party executive in Co Down where members backed the deal, he said it was “undoubtedly a decisive moment” for the DUP and a “good outcome for Northern Ireland”.

The DUP collapsed Stormont in February 2022 when its former First Minister, Paul Givan, quit the Executive in protest at post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Mr Donaldson admitted on Tuesday they had not secured “everything” they had sought from the UK government.

Outlining some of its detail, Mr Donaldson insisted the new arrangements will lead to “zero” post-Brexit trade checks on goods moving into Northern Ireland from Britain.

Asked if it will remove so the so-called Irish Sea Border, he said: “For the movement of goods within the United Kingdom, the protocol of course imposed severe restrictions on the movement of those goods. These new arrangements remove those restrictions.

“I think when the detail emerges, people will be able to see for themselves just how much progress we have made,” he said.


Our Northern Editor Freya McClements looks at what might come next:

It is to state the obvious to point out there is much work to be done; once a Speaker is elected, Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin vice-president, can take up her role as First Minister, as per the result of the 2022 Assembly election, and the first time in the history of Northern Ireland it has been held by a nationalist.

One to watch is whether the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, will sit as Deputy First Minister, or whether he will return to the green benches of the House of Commons – he is MP for Lagan Valley – and install a colleague in his place; the name mooted there is Emma Little-Pengelly.

Next will come the business of picking ministries – distributed between the four Executive parties on the basis of the d’Hondt system – and then it will be down to business.

Top of the list will be to set a budget and to get down to distributing the funds allocated by the UK government, but a word of warning: £3.3bn sounds a lot, but this is still a challenging financial climate, and Northern Ireland is suffering from years of underinvestment that has seen, to pick just two areas, waiting lists spiral and infrastructure problems go unrepaired. Just ask anyone about the potholes on the North’s roads.

What most people will be watching for is the settlement of the public-sector pay dispute, which has led to widespread strikes in Northern Ireland and, earlier this month, the largest mass industrial action in 50 years.

Money to address this is part of that £3.3bn deal; the reaction of ICTU was that the Northern Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, “must now deliver on his promise and unlock the financial package ... talks between trade unions and public sector employers must begin immediately so workers can reap the rewards of their principles resistance to these shameful political games”. Approximately 170,000 public sector workers are now looking forward to their pay rise; this also must be delivered quickly.

Read the full The Irish Times analysis of the Stormont breakthrough here.


Michelle O’Neill, who stands to become the first nationalist First Minister in a restored Stormont, said parties in Northern Ireland would meet later today. “We have much to do to confront the challenges facing our public services, workers and families which require urgent action,” she said.


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the deal would mean politicians in Northern Ireland “can get down to the hard work of dealing with everyday problems that people face”.

“For our part the Irish Government is very keen to work closely with the new Executive, to do all that we can to ensure that it is successful and that it lasts,” he said.


In a post on X, Steve Baker, UK Minister of State for Northern Ireland, said there were “no commitments of any kind” within the deal with the DUP to further align Britain with European Union law.

The statement – likely aimed at a Westminster audience – said there was no commitment to “increase alignment in Northern Ireland beyond the strictly limited scope Parliament has approved – which is itself subject to democratic consent and safeguards.”

“And for the avoidance of doubt, there is no legal mechanism to prevent divergence or force alignment across the whole of the UK,” he said.


Who is Jamie Bryson?

The outspoken loyalist activist was centre stage last night, as a source inside the internal DUP meeting discussing the return to Stormont allowed him to live tweet much of the cut and thrust of the closed door talks, to the ire of Donaldson and others.

The Irish Times recently carried a lengthy interview and profile of the combative figure, which you can read in full here: Jamie Bryson: meet the unelected outspoken loyalist who even the DUP fears.


Gerry Murphy, head of the Northern Ireland arm of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu), said the return of the Executive would be welcomed by the thousands of workers who took strike action earlier this month.

“Talks between trade unions and public sector employers must begin immediately so workers can reap the rewards of their principled resistance to these shameful political games,” he said. “Once the pay issues have been fairly resolved, the trade unions expect to contribute to the policy programme of the restored legislative Assembly and the NI Executive,” he said.


Our Northern Editor, Freya McClements, writes that a recall of the Assembly could happen as early as Friday or Saturday:

The first stage is for the UK to publish the legislation, and that will give the details of the deal that has persuaded the DUP to return to Stormont.

That then has to be passed at Westminster – which should be largely a formality – and that paves the way for a recall of the Assembly and the nomination of a Speaker, the prerequisite for all further business.

It’s a measure of how quickly things are moving that already on morning radio in Northern Ireland there is discussion around which party will take which ministry in a reformed Executive.

We do know one position – Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Féin vice-president, will take up her role as First Minister, the first time in the history of Northern Ireland it has been held by a nationalist.

One to watch is whether the DUP leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, will sit as Deputy First Minister, or whether he will return to the green benches of the House of Commons – he is MP for Lagan Valley – and install a colleague in his place; the name mooted there is Emma Little-Pengelly.


One of the main windfalls of the return of Stormont will be Northern Ireland unlocking £3.3bn (€3.8bn) in funding from the UK government. So what will that likely be spent on?

The improved financial package is understood to comprise £184m for public sector pay increases.

More than £600m of new and existing funding will be used to create a fund for the transformation of public services, with an additional £34m provided to tackle health waiting lists next year.


Details of deal likely published on Wednesday – Donaldson

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said he expected the details of the deal his party agreed with the UK government would be published tomorrow. He said he believed the government would move “quickly” to introduce legislation in the House of Commons to give effect to promised changes.

“First of all, there is a new legislation which will affirm Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom. And then there’s legislation to restore Northern Ireland’s ability to trade freely with the rest of the UK, whilst of course maintaining our access to the EU single market,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, the DUP leader said support for the return to Stormont was “decisive” within his party and that he did not anticipate any split.

“There are people that have concerns and we will address those concerns ... I don’t expect the people will decide that someone else has a better offer,” he said.

The timeline for when powersharing would be restored depended on how quickly the UK government pushed through promised legislative changes, he said.



Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said Northern Ireland had been through a “topsy turvy” period while Stormont had not been functioning.

Speaking on RTÉ, Mr McConalogue said the Government was hopeful the Executive would be back in place “over the next week or so”.

“The really important thing is we see, at long last, the decision for the DUP to enter the executive ... we certainly look forward to that getting up and running,” the Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal said.

The Minister said he was not “privy” to whether any deal agreed by the DUP included changes to the post-Brexit trading framework between the UK and Ireland.

Meanwhile, Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin MLA and former finance minister, said he believed the Assembly could be back “before the week is out”.

The British government was “prepared” for the DUP to agree a deal and would likely “move quickly” to introduce promised law changes in the coming days, he said. “We need to move ahead now and try to provide some government for people who elected us to do that job,” he said.


One of the most practical impacts of the return of Stormont will be a £3.3bn (€3.84bn) financial package available from the UK government, which had been subject to the return of powersharing. A significant chunk of the funding will likely be used to settle ongoing public pay disputes.

Some 170,000 public sector workers, including nurses, midwives, bus and train drivers, teachers and ambulance staff, brought Northern Ireland to a standstill earlier this month in the largest strike in the North in a generation.


Executive could be back by Thursday – Beattie

Doug Beattie, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP), said he expected the Executive could be back up and running by Thursday this week “or earlier”.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Beattie said he was “a little bit surprised” it had taken so long for the DUP to move to restore powersharing. “There was nowhere else to go. This was always going to be the outcome at some stage,” he said.

The rival unionist party leader questioned “what on earth was it all for”, given it seemed “absolutely nothing” had changed when it came to the Windsor framework governing post-Brexit arrangement in Northern Ireland.

“I think people will move very quickly because if you don’t people will try to undermine what was agreed. I think if things go to plan we could have the Executive up and running this week,” Mr Beattie said.


In a statement, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said he welcomed the decision by the DUP and that the “imminent return” of the government in Northern Ireland was “good news”.


What were the DUP’s seven red lines or tests that the party said would have to be met before it would return to Stormont?

  • Guarantee everyone in the UK is entitled to the same privileges and be on the same footing when it comes to trade.
  • New arrangements to avoid diversion of trade.
  • No effective trade border down the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.
  • Give people of Northern Ireland a say in EU laws in place under the protocol.
  • No checks on goods going from Northern Ireland to Britain or vice versa.
  • No new regulatory barriers developing between NI and the rest of the UK, unless agreed by the Executive and Assembly.
  • Any diminution of Northern Ireland’s status in UK would require consent of majority of NI population.


A big part of the £3.3bn deal to restore Stormont offered by the UK government was the money to settle public sector pay disputes, Freya McClements writes.

A mass strike brought Northern Ireland to a near-standstill earlier this month, and further strike action by Translink workers is due to take place on Thursday – which means another day with no public transport.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, Davy Thompson, the deputy regional secretary for Unite the union, said he did not believe the DUP’s move was sufficient to see the strikes called off. “We don’t know when that government’s going to be formed,” he said.

“Until there is government in Northern Ireland, there is no government in Northern Ireland, so the only person that can make a difference here is the Secretary of State who could release the funding.”


Mr Donaldson told the press conference at the Hinch Distillery in Ballynahinch that the package, which he said would be published by the government in due course, safeguarded Northern Ireland’s place in the union and restored its place within the UK internal market.

“It will remove checks for goods moving within the UK and remaining in Northern Ireland and will end Northern Ireland automatically following future EU laws,” he said.

“There will be legislation to provide new legal and practical protections for the Acts of Union and which guarantees unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the United Kingdom.

“In the coming days, in addition to the publication of the details of the new package of proposals, the UK Government will be required to deliver on the legislative commitments they have made to us.”

The DUP leader said he had also secured cross-party support for the proposals at Westminster.

“Therefore, regardless of who forms the next UK government, these agreed measures will be taken forward beyond the forthcoming general election,” he said.

“Throughout this process, we have been clear and have made clear we will only be able to move after the government faithfully delivers on the implementation of its legal and other commitments.

“The package of measures will require a significant number of actions to be taken and we look forward with confidence to their ongoing implementation, according to an agreed timeline.

“Upon that basis, the Democratic Unionist Party would support the calling of a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly to elect the speaker and facilitate the nomination of ministers,” Mr Donaldson said.

He continued: “I believe that with the faithful delivery of this package of measures, hard work and dedication, we will be able to look back on this moment as the defining time when Northern Ireland’s place within the Union was safeguarded, and our place within the United Kingdom internal market was restored.

“Over the coming period, we will work alongside others to build a thriving Northern Ireland firmly within the Union for this and succeeding generations.

“When our grandchildren look back on this period, they will be able to say we had a just cause, we held the line, we restored the balance and we secured a positive future for Northern Ireland and its integral place in the Union of the United Kingdom.” – PA


DUP efforts to keep details of Monday’s executive meeting secret were seriously undermined when Jamie Bryson, a loyalist activist and vocal opponent of the Government deal, posted on X, formerly Twitter, what he said were live updates from the confidential briefing – posts that included details of apparent attempts to find out who was leaking the information to Mr Bryson.

Asked about potential dissent within the party, Mr Donaldson added: “I am confident that all members of the party will accept what was a decisive move by the party executive this evening.”

Around 50 loyalist and unionist protesters assembled outside Monday night’s meeting at the Larchfield estate in Co Down, many carrying posters and banners warning against a DUP “sell-out”.

Some shouted at DUP members as they drove into the grounds of the venue.


Sinn Féin would be in line to take the First Minister’s job in any restored ministerial executive in Belfast.

Party president Mary Lou McDonald said she was optimistic Stormont could return before the next legislative deadline for forming an administration, February 8th.

“I am optimistic having heard Jeffrey Donaldson’s public declaration that we will see the Northern institutions back up and running before the February 8th deadline with a fully functioning Assembly and Executive and north south bodies,” she said.

“Sinn Féin will now engage with the parties and both governments to ensure we now all press on without delay.

“It is vital there is political stability to address the scale of the crisis across our public services,” she said.

“Let’s now focus minds on the job at hand and to the solutions required to support workers and families who want and deserve functioning government.”


Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris welcomed the step and made clear the British government would deliver on its end of the deal. He described the breakthrough as a “welcome and significant step” by the DUP.

“I am grateful to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and colleagues for the constructive dialogue over the past months and to the other political parties in Northern Ireland for the patience they have shown during this time,” he said.

“I am pleased that the DUP have agreed to accept the package of measures that the UK Government has put forward and as a result they are ready to return to the Northern Ireland Assembly and nominate representatives to the Northern Ireland Executive.

“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said this is subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK Government – I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement.

“I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return, the parties entitled to form an Executive are meeting tomorrow to discuss these matters and I hope to be able to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible.”


Support for the deal is not unanimous within the DUP and several senior figures remain fiercely opposed to the proposed agreement to restore powersharing.

The party has been using a veto power to block Stormont’s devolved institutions for two years in protest at post-Brexit arrangements that have created trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland.

It has been involved in protracted talks with the British government aimed at securing concessions on the arrangements that would address its concerns around trade and sovereignty.

Mr Donaldson insisted he had secured sufficient party backing to initiate a sequence of events that would result in Stormont’s return.

“The officers, Assembly group, parliamentary group and the central executive of the Democratic Unionist Party have now been briefed and considered all aspects of our negotiations between the UK government and the DUP,” he said.

“I am pleased to report that the party executive has now endorsed the proposals that I have put to them.

“The party has concluded that subject to the binding commitments between the Democratic Unionist Party and the UK Government being fully and faithfully delivered as agreed, including the tabling and passing of new legislative measures in Parliament and final agreement on a timetable, the package of measures in totality does provide a basis for our party to nominate members to the Northern Ireland Executive, thus seeing the restoration of the locally elected institutions.”

Unionist critics of his move, both inside and outside the DUP, believe the Stormont boycott should only end once all economic barriers created by Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, and the subsequent Windsor Framework, are removed.

While the deal being offered by the government will seek to reduce red tape and offer additional measures aimed at strengthening Britain-North ties, they will not result in the axing of the EU and the UK’s jointly agreed protocol and framework. – PA


Mr Donaldson said DUP party officers – a key 12-strong decision making body – had “mandated” him to move forward on the basis he was proposing.

During the powersharing impasse, the DUP has used “seven tests” to measure any proposals designed to address its concerns on the trading arrangements. Mr Donaldson said the package on the table represented “progress” across all seven tests. – PA