Assembly speaker: Northern Ireland parties must agree deal for Stormont to be recalled
Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Robin Newton, has said that Stormont will only be recalled if the political parties of Northern Ireland agree a deal that will restore power sharing.
The draft text of the deal was published by both the British and Irish governments on Thursday, with Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith calling on Newton to arrange an urgent meeting of the Assembly on Friday.
Smith and Tánaiste [Irish Deputy Prime Minister] Simon Coveney announced the draft deal at Stormont on Thursday evening. Should the deal be agreed, the Stormont Assembly could be restored as soon as Friday. However, that depends entirely on the speaker receiving a positive response from the parties.
Smith urged Northern Ireland's parties to get behind the deal, saying that it will transform public services and restore the trust of the public in the Assembly.
In the backdrop to Friday's talks, thousands of healthcare workers in Northern Ireland will be striking, and Smith believes that if the parties support the deal, it will help put an end to the disruption.
Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, Smith also fired a warning that there "is no money coming in" for health unions "unless the executive gets up and running".
Smith added: "I want to focus on public services, they need to get back to work.”
Speaking to the BBC on Good Morning Ulster, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was “hopeful” that Stormont will be restored, having spoken with Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill on Thursday.
Foster said: “Discussions will continue throughout the day and hopefully we can get to a place where we can have the executive up and running again.”
Two persistent issues in restoring Stormont surround an Irish language act and a petition of concern, which serves to protect one community from legislation that favours another. To be a valid petition under current rules, it must be signed by 30 MLAs.
The draft deal says that “meaningful reform” of the petition must take place and that it will “only be used in the most exceptional circumstances and as a last resort, having used every other mechanism”.
With regards to the Irish language act, the deal would pave the way for legislation to appoint an Irish language commissioner and an Ulster-Scots commissioner.
The deal also indicates that there could be a separate climate change act for Northern Ireland.