Northern Ireland's Stormont to resume after deal to restore powersharing

Northern Ireland's devolved assembly will resume on Saturday, three years after powersharing collapsed.

Assembly members will sit at Parliament Buildings in Belfast for the first time since the acrimonious collapse of the last devolved government.

The DUP and Sinn Féin, the country's two largest parties, have agreed to re-enter a mandatory coalition ministerial executive.

Both signed up to the deal, tabled by both the UK and Irish government, which offered compromises on long-standing disputes on issues such as the Irish language.

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has declared it is "time to get Northern Ireland moving again".

Just hours before the Assembly is due to sit, Mrs Foster tweeted: "Today we will re-establish an Executive after three years of stalemate. It's time to Get Northern Ireland Moving Forward Again. We won't solve every problem immediately but local Ministers will get on with key reforms in schools and hospitals."

The endorsement of the two parties was essential for the formation of an executive, as peace process structures mean an administration can only function if it includes the largest unionist party and largest nationalist party.

While their inclusion is not a prerequisite, the region’s three other main parties – the SDLP, Ulster Unionists and Alliance – could also all end up taking seats in the new devolved government.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald announces that her party will return to powersharing Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

The SDLP has confirmed it will take up its entitlement to one ministry.

The Alliance Party has also backed the deal. While it does not have the electoral strength to take a ministry by right it may be invited to take up the justice portfolio, which is allocated by a different process to other ministries.

As of late Friday night, the Ulster Unionist Party, which is entitled to a seat, has not yet indicated whether it would enter the executive.

DUP leader Arlene Foster is set to return as Northern Ireland’s first minister Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

The first item of business when the Assembly sits at 1pm will be the election of a new speaker and team of deputy speakers.

The afternoon will also see the election of a DUP first minister, a Sinn Féin deputy first minister and the rest of the new ministerial executive.

The plenary session is scheduled to last for three-and-a-half hours.

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who has experienced a turbulent number of years at the helm of the party, is set to return as Northern Ireland’s first minister.

Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill is likely to be her party’s nomination for deputy first minister.

Irish Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith published the deal on Thursday night Credit: Niall Carson/PA

The ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal will also be accompanied by what the UK Government has promised will be a major investment package.

Government funding is set to help tackle a host of acute problems facing a public sector that has been floundering amid the governance vacuum.

One of the most high-profile of those is an industrial dispute in the health service that has seen nurses take strike action on three occasions in the last month.

Under the terms of the deal, the new executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists; extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms; increase the number of police officers on the beat; and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

The last DUP/Sinn Féin-led coalition government collapsed in January 2017 over a row about a botched green energy scheme.

That row subsequently widened to take in more traditional wrangles on matters such as the Irish language and the thorny legacy of the Troubles.