Arlene Foster has been restored as Northern Ireland’s First Minister as part of a power-sharing deal that ended more than three years of political deadlock.
The region has been without a legislative assembly since 2017, but Foster – the head of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – was confirmed as First Minister on Saturday after the two main parties endorsed a new agreement put forward by the British and Irish governments.
Talks between Irish nationalists, who favor a united Ireland, and unionists, who want to remain part of the UK, had been ongoing all week at Northern Ireland’s parliament buildings, with the aim of coming to an agreement before a January 13 deadline imposed by London. Westminster threatened fresh elections if the deadline was missed.
The deal, titled “New Decade, New Approach,” sets out a vision for Northern Ireland’s future and aims to address issues that have arisen in the past three years, including officially recognizing the Irish language for the first time, establishing an Irish language Commissioner and increasing Irish language funding.
It also commits to ending an ongoing strike by health care professionals, in part by increasing funding, and stripping veto powers of individual parties, a tool widely criticized as unequal.
“We have a basis to restore power sharing, we are up for that. There is no doubt there are serious challenges ahead – the impact of Brexit, austerity and a range of other issues,” Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald said in a statement Friday.
“The biggest and most significant challenge will be ensuring that we have genuine power sharing based on equality, respect and integrity.
“I believe that the power sharing government can work. That requires everyone to step up. Sinn Féin’s commitment is to do all in our power to make this happen.”
The DUP endorsed the deal late Thursday.
“This is not a perfect deal and there are elements within it which we recognize are the product of long negotiations and represent compromise outcomes. There will always need to be give and take,” Foster said in a statement, while remaining firm in her unionist beliefs.
“Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so for as long as people are content and at home living here,” she said, adding that the region’s place in the UK was not diminished by the deal.”