Page last updated at 13:05 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Is the NI devolution deal truly historic?

By Mark Simpson
Ireland correspondent, BBC News

Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson (right) and Martin McGuinness (left)
The agreement follows some 130 hours of negotiations

This is a potentially historic day in Northern Ireland.

I use the word "potentially" advisedly because the history of Northern Ireland is littered with failed political initiatives.

It has to be said though that this latest one - the deal that took 130 hours of negotiation - has got a pretty fair wind.

There have been quite striking pictures of Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein and Democratic Unionist leader Peter Robinson standing together. But we still haven't seen a public handshake between those two men.

The unionists are still a little reluctant to be seen in public cosying up to Sinn Fein. That tells you all you need to know about this only being a potentially historic agreement.

Last piece of jigsaw

"Paper refuses nothing," as my mother always used to tell me. Just because the parties have agreed this formula, it doesn't mean it is necessarily going to work.

The question everyone is now asking is, "What will happen?" I think three things.

First of all, the main part of this agreement is the devolution of policing and justice from Westminster to Stormont, which we are told is happening on 12 April.

Many people are going to see that, if it happens eventually, as the last piece of the jigsaw in the peace process here in Northern Ireland.

The second thing is everything else that is proposed in this document is going to have to be implemented.

And the third thing, which I think is going to be the priority for a lot of the politicians here, is that after 10 long days and nights of negotiations, they are all going to try to get some sleep.

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