A DUP deal has been published that aims to restore devolution in Northern Ireland

  • By John Campbell
  • BBC News NI Economics and Business Editor

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The Northern Ireland Secretary outlines four “key elements” in his package of measures to restore devolution at Stormont.

The DUP has boycotted Stormont's devolved government for two years in protest over post-Brexit trade rules.

The deal will reduce checks and paperwork on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

These changes will apply to GB goods residing in Northern Ireland and mean that those goods will no longer have the usual checks.

Those changes include the maximum flexibility allowed under the previous EU/UK agreement, which would be acceptable to the EU.

On Tuesday, the UK and EU coalition reached agreement to make changes to that agreement to allow NI to benefit from UK free trade agreements.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said the decision was “right for Northern Ireland and the right for the Union”.

He further said that this is the moment when politicians should work together.

image source, Niall Carson/PA Wire

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Sir Geoffrey Donaldson and Chris Heaton-Harris held a joint press conference at Hillsborough after the deal was announced.

“I believe we will have the conditions to see Stormont up and running quickly,” he said.

So now we have the exact details, the black and white – or some might say the red, white and blue title of the document, Preserving the Union is more appropriate.

But beyond the practicalities, the political consequences are likely to be greater.

After those long months of negotiations, the government, along with the DUP leader, has now begun hard-selling the plan.

It desperately wants it to work not only to reverse devolution but also to make the Sunak administration a success.

Its supporters and opponents have already begun to appear on our airwaves and the noise — on both sides — will only get louder in the coming hours.

The Government will introduce two pieces of legislation to ensure that Northern Ireland's goods can be sold in Great Britain under all circumstances and to ensure Northern Ireland's place in the UK.

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TUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson gave an interview to the BBC on Wednesday, breaking down the details of the deal.

Appearing on BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback program on Wednesday, DUP leader Sir Geoffrey Donaldson was asked whether the deal would remove a trade border in the Irish Sea.

“Our aim was to eliminate the Irish Sea border for goods coming from the UK and that's what we've achieved,” he said.

“If we bring goods to sell in Northern Ireland anymore, you are no longer in a situation where you need a customs declaration.”

He added that those bringing goods into Northern Ireland to sell in Northern Ireland or for their own consumption “will not require a customs declaration at Northern Ireland ports and there will be no physical checks (on those goods)”.

The DUP leader argued that it would “remove the border in the UK internal market”.

image source, Niall Carson B.A

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Sinn Féin is the largest party since the last general election and will nominate Michelle O'Neill as First Minister.

The legislation is expected to be fast-tracked in Parliament on Thursday.

'Broken Promises'

Sir Geoffrey praised Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, saying he “has delivered where others have not”.

The DUP leader compared the current number 10 to one of his predecessors, Boris Johnson, saying Mr Johnson “promised us a lot of things but he didn't deliver them”.

Sir Geoffrey said the deal was far from perfect, he had not achieved everything the DUP wanted and explained there was still a lot of work to be done on the “vital issue” of veterinary drugs.

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Westminster leaders welcome talks to restore devolution in Northern Ireland

The Prime Minister has praised the “significant steps” taken by the DUP to agree the deal.

Opening Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Mr Sunak thanked the DUP for its efforts and said other parties had shown patience over the past two years.

He said now was the chance to get devolution back on track by “strengthening our union and giving people the local, accountable government they need”.

The Prime Minister also said it would provide “a brighter future for Northern Ireland”.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer described it as a “critical moment” and that all parties must work together to kickstart devolution.

'Hope and Trust'

Major Stormont parties met Tánaiste (Irish Deputy Prime Minister) Michael Martin in Belfast on Wednesday.

Speaking after the meeting, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said there was “some hope and confidence” in the return of an executive in Northern Ireland.

As the party with the most seats in the 2022 general election, Sinn Féin will qualify for the post of Prime Minister.

It would make Sinn Féin's Ms O'Neill the first person from a nationalist background to become Northern Ireland's first minister.

As the second largest party, the DUP will have the right to nominate a Deputy First Minister.

Both roles always share the same powers and responsibilities and are equal in all but name.

Asked if she was ready to be First Minister of Northern Ireland, Ms O'Neill said: “I am absolutely ready to take that administration to work with all governing parties and deliver what is important to the people.”

Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said his party had a “good meeting” with Mr Martin, but how angry they were at the “detail” of the new deal.

In the House of Commons, Colum Eastwood, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party (SDLP), asked Mr Heaton-Harris whether he should look at how the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement could work with all political parties in Irish government. It needs to be reformed to “ensure that no party can drag them down again.”

Mr Heaton-Harris said when it came to the question of reform in Northern Ireland, “this is a conversation that needs to be started within Stormont and by the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives”.

Meanwhile, Coalition MP Stephen Fairey asked the NI Secretary about the £3.3bn funding package to be delivered before Christmas, and admitted “a fuller debate is needed about reviewing NI's finances”.

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