Northern Ireland’s largest unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has agreed to restore power-sharing in Stormont after a two-year standoff that left Northern Ireland without a functioning government. The breakthrough deal addresses contentious post-Brexit trade issues and paves the way for the return of devolution.
Key Points of the Deal
The deal includes several key provisions to resolve the political impasse:
- The DUP will end its boycott and agree to restore the power-sharing Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly
- There will be changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol’s implementation to ease trade friction with the rest of the UK
- The UK government will introduce legislation for Irish language laws demanded by Sinn Fein
- An identity and language commission will be established to promote pluralism and diversity
The deal has been hailed by leaders across the political spectrum as a “historic” moment bringing much-needed political stability. The return of the devolved government ends a period dubbed the “lost years” in Northern Ireland.
Timeline of the Crisis
The Northern Ireland government collapsed in February 2022 when the DUP withdrew from power-sharing in protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements under the Northern Ireland Protocol. This triggered a political crisis and left Northern Ireland without an executive for over two years.
|DUP withdraws from power-sharing, collapsing Stormont executive
|Sinn Fein wins historic first election victory
|UK PM Liz Truss unveils bill to unilaterally change NI Protocol, sparking backlash
|Talks fail to reach a deal before Christmas deadline
|Rishi Sunak presses reset button, opening door for intensified negotiations
|Jan 30, 2024
|Breakthrough deal announced between UK/EU and NI parties
The standoff worsened following Sinn Fein’s historic first election victory last May. Multiple rounds of talks over the past two years failed to achieve a breakthrough. The political vacuum left Stormont unable to pass key legislation and tackle mounting challenges in healthcare and the economy.
Reaction from Political Leaders
Party leaders universally welcomed the deal, though some caution remains about implementation:
- DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson: “We now have clear evidence that progress can be made through dialogue and engagement.”
- Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill: “We now have the basis to restore power-sharing…this is a moment of hope.”
- UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak: “This is a historic deal…devolution can now get up and running again.”
- Irish PM Micheál Martin: “This agreement offers a genuine opportunity for progress.”
- European Commission VP Maroš Šefčovič: “It gives Northern Ireland the tools it needs to make devolution work.”
While the DUP holds the First Minister post, Sinn Fein’s O’Neill is in line to serve as Deputy First Minister in the new executive.
What’s Next for Northern Ireland
With devolution restored after years of deadlock, focus shifts to making the institutions function again:
- Reconvening the Assembly – Emergency law to give civil servants more powers will lapse, returning competence to elected ministers
- Passing Long-Delayed Reforms – Bills on language, climate action, welfare reform, waiting list plan, and more will top the agenda
- Easing Trade Disruption – Revised Protocol arrangements aim to improve flow of goods between GB and NI
- Tackling Pressing Challenges – Soaring hospital waiting lists, surging inflation, squeezed healthcare, schools and public sector all need addressed
People are breathing a sigh of relief at the return of devolved government. There is hope that Northern Ireland can now move beyond the cycle of instability and work towards a more positive future. But as the unsettled history shows, implementing deals here can be as great a test as reaching them.
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