"This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age."

So says Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness announcing a new deal in Northern Ireland which could see policing and justice powers devolved to the North on April 12, 12 years after the original Good Friday peace deal was signed on April 10, 1998

The deal rests on a new agreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein which was signed in the early hours of the morning.

The deal will now go to a cross-community vote in the NI Assembly on March 9.

The political future of the North had been threatened with collapse because of disagreements on the timing of the devolution of the justice powers.

Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen said the agreement was "an essential step for peace, stability and security in Northern Ireland" which laid the foundations for a better future.

And newly reinstated Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Peter Robinson said it was better to get it done and get it right.

"Over recent weeks there may have been great frustration out in the community," he said.

"But there would have been even greater frustration if we did a deal that collapsed. So it is far better that we spend the extra time and we get it right."

He said the DUP's members had unanimously backed the agreement. "This is a sound deal and one that I can recommend," he said.

McGuinness, from Sinn Fein said: "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."

He added: "This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age."

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the deal, saying the agreement was possible because of "a new spirit of mutual cooperation and respect".

"We are closing the last chapter of a long and troubled story and we are opening a new chapter for Northern Ireland," he said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams also welcomed the deal and said: "There's a wonderful chance now in a new spirit for us all to go forward."

However, referring to the Irish language debate he said that was "work for another day".