Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

As it happened: Northern Ireland deal

Peter Robinson described the day a deal was reached as 'a good day'.

By Greg McKevitt

The British and Irish Prime Ministers addressed a news conference at Hillsborough Castle on Friday alongside First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

It followed a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein which could see policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland on 12 April. Here is our text commentary written as the leaders spoke to the waiting media.

1049 So, a cross-community vote on devolving the powers will be held in the NI Assembly on 9 March - I'm sure we'll have more live coverage then, but for now, it's time to wrap things up. Thanks for your time today, and stay glued to the BBC News website for more updates. As we speak, our political correspondents are reading the runes, so expect plenty of analysis and reaction throughout the day.

1043 Northern Ireland's chief constable Matt Baggott says the agreement provided his service with the certainty required to plan for the future. "I do believe that devolution is a step to a safer, secure, more peaceful Northern Ireland, and look forward to working with the new Minister and the Department of Justice in due course," he adds.

1039 OK, we're getting ready to wrap things up here on this live page pretty soon. The deal has been welcomed by the Institute of Directors, who say it will contribute to the image of stability in our political structures, which will in turn impact positively on the confidence of local businesses and external investors in the future of Northern Ireland.

Pressure group Northern Ireland Manufacturing also welcomed the agreement, saying it hopes politicians can concentrate on the issues such as jobs that have an immediate impact on people's lives. Last year, manufacturing industries in Northern Ireland shed 8,400 jobs - 10% of the total manufacturing base. During the period of negotiations at Hillsborough, two American companies, Avaya at Monkstown and Hughes Christensen in Castlereagh, announced their decisions to pull out of Northern Ireland with the combined loss of 350 jobs.

Brian Cowen: "The devolved institutions can and will work"

1034 The last section of the new deal tackles outstanding business from the St Andrews Agreement which was signed back in 2006. That agreement provided a pathway to today's deal. St Andrews (Annex B to be precise) also discussed a law to promote and protect the Irish language - a Sinn Fein demand which the DUP have blocked. Could that now be back in the mix?

1032 More deal detail: section four also tackles the under-performance of the Executive. It says junior ministers will chair a working group (that's three working groups so far) and oversee an exercise of trawling for and identifying all Executive papers and decisions which are still pending. They will report on how progress could be made by the end of February.

1029 Noel Doran, editor of the nationalist Irish News, says: "If there is ill will out there, this could be a difficult summer indeed".

1029 Darwin Templeton, editor of unionist-leaning newspaper the News Letter, says the agreement will be a "difficult sell" for unionists. He adds that a focus would now be on parades "like never before".

1027 Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is speaking now. "This is a very, very good day," he says. "This (agreement) will make a huge difference to the lives of people here if political leaders grasp it."

1026 BBC NI Political Editor Mark Devenport says the "hard sell" of the agreement has already begun. He says the DUP will be trying to explain what the agreement means for various interested groups including the Orange Order.

1023 Editor of the News Letter, Darwin Templeton, tells BBC NI they had to delay printing their paper as news of the deal broke just before midnight. His staff had "a late night and an early morning," he said.

1021 In section three of the agreement there's an acknowledgment that the Executive has not been performing brilliantly. We learn that "party papers have been exchanged during the talks making suggestions on how the Executive might function better and how delivery might be improved." A working group will be set up to take this issue forward, co-chaired by Sir Reg Empey, the UUP employment minister, and Margaret Ritchie, the SDLP social development minister.

1019 Oh, here's a joke I missed earlier from Martin McGuinness. "I agreed with Peter that he would wear a green tie and I would wear an orange one, but as you can see we've got off to a bad start. I knew he would chicken out." By the way, the news conference is over now and we're all beginning to digest what's just happened.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown is asked if Northern Ireland politics had the maturity to deal with difficulties. He says: "The detail of the agreement shows that we have not avoided the issues that are controversial."

1015 Here's a bit more from the agreement on parading: It emphasises local solutions and says the Executive will promote direct dialogue with representatives of the Loyal Orders, band parade organisers and local residents. The Executive will also encourage the participation of local elected representatives in the process of resolution.

1013 Gordon Brown says the agreement ensures new investment will come to Northern Ireland "when people see the stability it brings".

1010 Peter Robinson: "The issues that we are dealing with are life and death issues. We are dealing with everybody's safety and security in Northern Ireland."

1009 Martin McGuinness gets epic: "This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age."

1009 The parading consultation is intended to lead to new legislation which is timetabled to come into force by the end of 2010. Royal Assent is pencilled in for the week commencing 13 December.

1008 On parading, the agreement says a working group comprising of six members will be appointed by the First and Deputy First Ministers. It will bring forward proposals which they believe are capable of achieving cross-community support for a new and improved parading framework. This work will begin immediately and will be completed within three weeks.

1005 If you fancy joining in the fun and going through the agreement yourself, it's now up online.

1003 Amid the hilarity, we are continuing to speed-read the agreement. It states that the justice minister will be able to bring forward proposals detailing how normal Executive procedures could be amended to allow them to make decisions in urgent or confidential or matters which would normally require consideration by the Executive. Pending any amendments, the arrangement would be that the Executive would "normally" grant retrospective approval to any such solo decision making in which the Minister had acted "reasonably."

1001 Mr Robinson says Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams told him at the start of the latest round of talks that they could "crunch it in a few hours". He adds: "After 120 hours, I questioned his definition of "a few".

1001 Here's a bit more from Martin McGuinness: "We are dealing with centuries old difficulties here. If we are to succeed as a government, we have to show people at grassroots level that we can work together.The last thing that we want to do, while the eyes of the world are on us, is to fail."

0958 Brian Cowen jumps on Robbo's 2012 bandwagon and says NI should win the event as the parties have "broken the world record" for negotiations.

0957 The leaders are asked if they would shake hands in public. Peter Robinson says: "We're not into the business of stunts."

0954 The agreement adds that when it comes to what are called "quasi-judicial decisions" the justice minister won't have to get the collective agreement of the Executive. It says such decisions "shall be made by the justice minister without recourse to the Executive."

0952 Martin McGuinness: "To quote Sammy Wilson, this was an agreement "made in Ulster" - albeit that he looks at it from a six-county point of view while I look at it from nine counties."

0951 The agreement lays out a proposed work plan for the justice minister. It includes things like the establishment of a sentencing guidelines council, a review of management and oversight of all prisons and the development of a Victims Code of Practice setting out a minimum standard of service that criminal justice agencies will be expected to provide to victims of crime

0950 The leaders are asked about why the Ulster Unionists are not at Hillsborough. Peter Robinson says he would "have liked them to be here", while Gordon Brown says he hopes they will "be able to continue their long-standing support for policing and justice devolution".

0947 As the leaders continue speaking in Hillsborough, we're frantically reading through the agreement in the newsroom in Belfast. It tells us that the justice minister will have the same status in the Executive as other ministers.

0944 Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein says he is "a minister for all citizens". He adds: "We need to confront and defeat all kinds of hatred."

0943 Peter Robinson is telling jokes. He says if negotiations become an Olympic sport in London 2012, NI will enter a team and lift the gold medal, and then enter negotiations about which anthem should be played and which flag should be raised.

0942 OK here we go: "On Monday 8 February 2010 the First Minister and deputy First Minister will convene a meeting of party leaders to consider applications of interest for the post of Justice Minister. The purpose of this meeting will be to allow the First Minister and deputy First Minister to identify which candidate they believe is best able to command cross-community support in the Assembly."

0939 The agreement has just dropped in the BBC's email inbox... stay tuned!

0937 DUP leader Peter Robinson is up now. He says it's "a good day for Northern Ireland", adding: "We have laid the foundations for a better future for us all."

0936 Mr Cowen pays tribute to his Foreign Minister Micheal Martin and NI Secretray of State Shaun Woodward, who chaired the marathon talks.

0935 The BBC's William Crawley tweets: "We're expecting a statement of 'contentment' from the Orange Order any time soon." The Orange Order is Northern Ireland's largest Protestant parading organisation, and the issue was at the heart of the discussions.

0932 Brian Cowen, the Irish PM, says the deal "closes the circle" in Northern Ireland.

0930 Prime Minister Gordon Brown says "this is the day we have secured the future".

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