Agreement with DUP paves way for return of Northern Ireland devolved government

Tue 30 Jan 2024
Posted by: Benjamin Roche
Trade News

Devolved government is set to return to Northern Ireland after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) agreed a deal with the Westminster government to resume the power sharing arrangement underpinning the Stormont assembly, according to Reuters.

Check changes

The agreement between the DUP and Westminster was announced at 1am this morning (30 January), and will purportedly end checks on goods moving within the UK and remaining in Northern Ireland, as well as give Northern Irish businesses “unrestricted” access to the British market.

Further details are set to be provided by the UK government “in due course”, said DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.

Sir Jeffrey said last month that the UK government needed to “advance on [its] offer” of funding for the region if an agreement was to be reached after talks fell apart just before December’s parliamentary recess.

That offer was £2.5bn, but failed to convince the party to resume the power sharing agreement underpinning Northern Ireland’s devolved government. The Guardian reports that a renewed offer of over £3bn has been tabled.

The DUP had refused to participate in Stormont in protest against post-Brexit trade rules agreed to between Brussels and Westminster, first under the Northern Ireland Protocol and then under the Windsor Framework.

‘A good outcome’

Sir Jeffrey has called today’s agreement “a good outcome for Northern Ireland”, stating:

“I’m delighted that we’ve been able to make the progress that we have. I believe there is now a route to have the devolved government restored.”

However, he added that his party will “fight for further changes” to the region’s trade status, saying that the proposals are not “perfect” and that the DUP has not yet “achieved everything we wanted to achieve”.

The DUP leader explained that what the agreement does achieve is a decoupling from EU law and an end to a situation where “all new EU law applied automatically to Northern Ireland”.

UK legislation to formalise the agreement could be brought before parliament this week, the BBC has suggested, in order to allow the formation of a new power sharing government before the deadline for forming a new executive on 8 February.

‘Welcome and significant’

The UK’s Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, said:

"I now believe that all the conditions are in place for the Assembly to return; the parties entitled to form an executive are meeting tomorrow to discuss these matters and I hope to be able to finalise this deal with the political parties as soon as possible."

He added that the months-long negotiations with the DUP had been a “constructive dialogue”, and called the new agreement a “welcome and significant step”.

Steve Aiken of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) called for Heaton-Harris to “expedite legislation” to make up for the “wasted time” caused by the walkout.

Sinn Féin to ‘engage’

Sinn Féin’s leader, Mary Lou McDonald, said her party would “now engage with the parties and both governments to ensure we now all press on without delay,”

Michelle O’Neill, the republican party’s first minister-designate, also welcomed the decision.

The resumption of power sharing means Sinn Fein will get the chance to nominate a first minister, as it is the largest party in Northern Ireland following the 2022 elections, while the DUP will put forward its candidate for deputy first minister.