The all-party talks chaired by the British and Irish governments finally reached a satisfactory conclusion on Tuesday afternoon as the sides approved what is known as the Stormont House Agreement, which deals with issues such as parades, flags, the legacy of The Troubles and pressing budget concerns.
This latest series of talks lasted 11 weeks and finally wrapped up after a 30-hour marathon session that ended with British Prime Minister David Cameron pledging to support the Stormont government with nearly £2 billion ($3.1bn) in funding that will facilitate a number of new initiatives. This includes £500 million ($777.5m) for cross-community education initiatives, £150 million ($233.2m) for victims of The Troubles, and £700 million ($1bn) for public sector reform.
In an effort to quell the growing unease over the outstanding areas blocking progress in the North the United States appointed former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart as an envoy to help the sides reach common ground. Hart first traveled to Stormont at the end of October and returned earlier this month.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the sides for reaching a pre-Christmas breakthrough.
“I commend the parties for working together through some very contentious issues – and finding solutions that will promote a more peaceful and hopeful future for the people of Northern Ireland. “The agreement will now go through party structures for endorsement,” he said.
“I'm also particularly grateful to my personal representative, Senator Gary Hart, and his deputy Greg Burton, whose deep engagement helped ensure the success of the talks. I know Senator Hart looks forward to continuing his efforts next year in support of a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland, and I am very lucky to have Gary devoting his time to this effort.”
The Irish government actively participated in the talks, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the new deal signals “brighter days ahead” for Northern Ireland.
“As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, this government is conscious of our responsibilities to all of the people of this island. The last three months have involved a huge commitment from both the governments and from all of the parties concerned,” Flanagan said.
Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of the Stormont government, also expressed satisfaction at the outcome.
“We're proud of our achievement, I think it is remarkable that we managed against all odds, when people told us it couldn't be done to achieve this in the interests of [vulnerable] people. I think that is something to be proud of,” McGuinness said.
First Minister Peter Robinson called the deal a “monumental step forward” for Northern Ireland, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “This agreement means the UK [United Kingdom] government has been able to offer a significant financial package that opens the way for more prosperity, stability and economic security for Northern Ireland.”