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Media captionSinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald (left) addressed reporters at Stormont

Sinn Féin have said they will re-enter devolved government in Northern Ireland after three years of deadlock.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had earlier also given its tentative support to a draft deal to restore Stormont’s political institutions.

The British and Irish governments published the draft proposals on Thursday, after nine months of talks.

Stormont’s power-sharing coalition, led by the DUP and Sinn Féin, collapsed in January 2017 over a green energy row.

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald told a Stormont press conference that her party will nominate ministers to an executive.

She said Sinn Féin was up for a return to “genuine power sharing”.

“I believe power sharing can work but that requires everyone to step up.”

“We need to have an inclusive executive.”

Image copyright Getty/Charles McQuillan
Image caption Tánaiste (Irish Deputy PM) Simon Coveney and NI Secretary Julian Smith published the deal on Thursday night

Public services across Northern Ireland have been suffering over the last three years because no locally-elected ministers have been in place to take decisions about matters like health and social care or education.

Many schools have been unable to balance their budgets and thousands of health workers are staging strikes in protest over pay and staffing.

The Northern Ireland Secretary of State Julian Smith had warned that if the deal was not accepted, he would call a fresh assembly election.

Revealing the deal on Thursday night, Mr Smith asked the Stormont speaker, Robin Newton, to arrange an urgent meeting of the assembly for Friday.

However, on Friday morning, Mr Newton said the Northern Ireland Assembly will only be recalled if the political parties agree on a potential deal to restore power sharing.

Mary Lou McDonald did not comment on the timing the assembly could meet at.

She said there is also not yet a time or date for the executive to meet – but she wanted it to happen as soon as possible.

DUP leader Arlene Foster described the proposals as a “fair and balanced deal”.

“I know there will be challenges in the deal, not least we need to make sure we have the finances to be able to deal with all of the issues in Northern Ireland that are present at the moment, particularly in and around the health sector.”

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) leader Colum Eastwood confirmed on Friday that his party will return to Stormont when the assembly is recalled.

The Ulster Unionists and Alliance are believed to be holding internal discussions now to decide if they will also rejoin the executive.

Irish Language

Earlier, Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge welcomed the draft deal as “historic advancement but added it “falls very much short” of promises for an Irish Language act.

Mrs McDonald told Irish language activists to “take heart” in what had been agreed.

She said there was “official legal recognition of the Irish language for the first time, an Irish language commissioner and increased Irish language funding”.

She said anybody who loves Irish and embraces diversity should regard the deal as positive, adding “this is about a society that makes room for everyone”.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The call for an Irish language act has been a key sticking point

The Sinn Féin president also welcomed measures to deal with the legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and changes to a controversial Stormont’s veto known as the Petition of Concern.

“We now have legislation to deal with legacy cases, which is to be delivered within 100 days, we have reform of the Petition of Concern to try and end its misuse as a veto by one political party,” she said.

“We have key measures to ensure transparency and accountability to prevent corruption and bad practice and to implement the recommendations from the RHI Inquiry.

“We have strategies to tackle poverty and sectarianism and a plan to put objective need at the heart of a programme for government.”

Health strike

About 9,000 health workers are currently on strike over pay and staffing levels in Northern Ireland.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption The RCN and Unison are campaigning for pay parity with NHS staff in Great Britain

On Friday Julian Smith said that extra money for workers would be withheld in the absence of a deal.

The health union Unison accused Mr Smith of “holding the people of Northern Ireland to ransom”.

It follows comments he made to the BBC that extra money for workers would be withheld in the absence of a deal.

What is power sharing?

In Northern Ireland, the government’s power must be shared between two different political parties. This is a result of something called the Good Friday Agreement, which came about to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister lead the government – one representing each of the two parties in power. Although they have different job titles, they basically have the same powers and must work together. Together, they are referred to as the Northern Ireland Executive.

But nearly three years ago there was a power-sharing argument between the two governing parties, which led to the government at Stormont being dissolved.

What was the argument about?

Sinn Féin’s former deputy leader Martin McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister in 2017 in protest against the handling of a flawed energy scheme that could cost taxpayers £490m.

He cited the DUP’s conduct over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme scandal as the main reason.

When Mr McGuinness resigned, Sinn Féin refused to appoint anyone else to his job to replace him, which meant that new elections had to take place.

Under Northern Ireland’s power-sharing agreement, Mrs Foster lost her role as first minister as a result of what happened.

Martin McGuiness died in March 2017 due to an illness.


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