The British and Irish governments have reached a £500m agreement with Stormont’s deadlocked parties to end the political stalemate in Belfast.
Northern Ireland faced the collapse of its power sharing government and assembly and the return of direct rule from London if the political vacuum continued.
Ten weeks of talks, assisted by the US envoy former Senator Gary Hart, have produced an agreement on eliminating the last vestiges of paramilitary organisations and compromise on implementing Chancellor George Osborne’s welfare cuts.
They could not reach agreement on so-called legacy issues – how to deal with past atrocities and injustices.
Despite this the agreement is entitled A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan and is 67 pages long.
It includes a new set of principles politicians will be asked to follow in relation to paramilitaries and a reworked financial package to help those impacted by welfare reforms and tax credit cuts.
Politicians – ministers and members of the legislative assembly (MLA) have pledged not take instructions from anyone or any organization other than their electors in their constituencies.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: “When PM Cameron and I convened these talks in early September, our key concerns were to advance the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement as well as addressing the trust and confidence issues arising from the impact and legacy of paramilitary activity.
“Today’s Agreement achieves those goals. It provides a credible roadmap for the implementation of many aspects of the Stormont House Agreement.”
As so often in the past a new international body will be set up to monitor paramilitary activity, with appointees nominated by the British and Irish governments and the Northern Ireland Executive.
It will have a £3.2m budget but no power to recommend the exclusion of any parties from the assembly.
A new cross-border task force of the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the National Crime Agency will work with the equivalent Irish organisations.
This task force will have a budget of £50m while the PSNI will get an extra £160m over the next five years.
Last year’s Stormont House Agreement fell on the issue of welfare reform, when Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) refused to enact welfare cuts with legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
A legislative consent motion will be introduced to the assembly on Wednesday to allow the government to push the changes from Westminster.
There will be a so-called “mitigation” package to ease the sting of the public spending cuts worth £585m over four years: £345m for measures designed to “mitigate” the welfare changes and £240m to help families who will lose tax credits.
It was also agreed that Northern Ireland will have the same rate of Corporation Tax, 12.5 per cent, as Ireland from April 2018.
The additional measures in the whole package are said to be worth £500m in “new” money on top of £700m towards voluntary redundancies in Northern Ireland’s public sector.
A commitment for £500m towards shared education will now be reallocated so some of the money may be spent.
A sum of £60m is reported to have been allocated to carry out work towards removing Belfast’s ironically named “peace” walls between estates.
Ireland is reported to have committed £75m towards modernising the A5 link between Dublin and the north-west of Northern Ireland with a similar amount from Stormont.
Speaking from Stormont the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan TD stated: “The Agreement is a credible roadmap for the implementation of many aspects of the Stormont House Agreement and tackling the continuing impact of paramilitarism. It underpins all our efforts to bring greater reconciliation and economic prosperity to the people of Northern Ireland and communities right across our island.”