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Friday, April 10, 1998 Published at 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK

Deal after day of tension

Agreement after hours of talks (5'33")
Northern Ireland peace talks have ended after a day of tension with an historic agreement on the future of the province.

Intense negotiations at Stormont near Belfast dragged on more than 17 hours after the deadline for a deal.

"Today courage has triumphed," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

After last minute doubts that the peace process would break up in ruins, the parties settled on a blueprint for the province.

The proposals now go to the people of both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic for approval at a referendum.

The long road to the deal (3'20")
The document's introduction says the settlement is an "historic opportunity" for the future.

It includes plans for a new Northern Ireland Assembly, new cross-border institutions and a Council of the Isles linking devolved assemblies across the UK with Westminster and Dublin.

The announcement was made from Stormont, the seat of the former Northern Ireland parliament.

George Mitchell: the gunmen should not win
The chairman of the talks, former US Senator George Mitchell, paid tribute to all those who had taken part and said the agreement sent a message to the paramilitary gunmen.

He said: "You will never solve the problems of Northern Ireland by violence, you will only make them worse. This is the future."

Tony Blair: "Courage has triumphed"
Mr Blair added: "In the past few days the irresistible force of the political leaders has been focused on that same immovable object. I believe we have now moved it.

"The burden of history can at long last start to be lifted from our shoulders. It will take more of the courage we have shown, but it need not mean more of the pain.

"Today is only the beginning. It is not the end."

Standing alongside, his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern, said the deal was a tribute to all the people of Ireland, but particularly those in Northern Ireland.

Bertie Ahern: "A victory for peace and democracy"
"They have suffered so much and now today's agreement is a victory for peace and democracy.

"Politically we must seize this initiative. We have given a structure and basis."

Gerry Adams: "We offer the hand of friendship."
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said: "Clearly there is still a huge gap of distrust between nationalists and unionists.

"It must be bridged on the basis of equality. We are here reaching out the hand of friendship."

David Trimble: "Thank you to the other democratic parties present."
Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble thanked Senator Mitchell and added: "I see a great opportunity for us to start a healing process. We know that the fundamental act of union is there, intact."

The leader of the nationalist SDLP, John Hume, said the world was watching Northern Ireland.

John Hume: "The world is watching."
"The agreement that we are celebrating today goes right to the heart of our problem in that it creates the institutions with the North and between North and South which are shared by both sections of our people."

He said the agreement provided the circumstances for everyone to work together and "to break down the barriers that divide our people."

Lord Alderdice, leader of the cross-community Alliance Party, said: "It is quite extraordinary. It is quite remarkable."

The document was also welcomed by the UDP and PUP parties, which represent loyalist paramilitary groups.

The UDP leader Gary McMichael said those chairing the talks had made a major contribution.

The PUP leader David Ervine added: "We came here saying that the union was safe. We came here to secure that union. We have done so and we are delighted."

Last minute crisis

Talks dragged on into Friday afternoon amid reports that the Ulster Unionist Party was split over whether it could "sell the deal" to its constituents.

Hours after an official announcement detailing the settlement was thought to be imminent, BBC correspondents said some unionists were warning the process was close to collapse.

But within minutes, Mr Trimble had accepted the agreement.

His decision followed a letter Mr Blair promising that decommissioning of paramilitary weapons - a key concern of the unionists - would begin in June.

The people decide

The agreement will be posted to every household in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and then put to a referendum on May 22, according to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman.

A referendum will also be held in the Irish Republic, but probably not on the same day.

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In this section

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Blair sends peace warning

Unionist political leaders urge yes vote

Loyalist paramilitaries back peace deal

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Peace deal branded a 'sell-out'

Man dies after Armagh shooting

UDP attacks Paisley

Trimble wins Unionist backing

Deal after day of tension

Peace Plan: The main points

Peace deal 'extraordinary opportunity,' says Blair

'Mission accomplished'

In US, peace deal hits close to home

Blair's call to fight for peace

Peace deal clears first hurdle

Decommissioning in the summer - Ahern

Republicans urged to 'study peace deal'

Opposition remains to deal