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Robinson: Northern Ireland agreement means "politics is working"

Irish and British prime ministers gather with Northern Ireland leaders to celebrate new agreement.

The normally humorless First Minister drew laughter when he speculated that if negotiating were an Olympic sport, “we would enter a team, we would win a gold medal, and we would then start negotiating to decide what flag and anthem we would have.”

While both prime ministers talked about the deal making history, the bitterness between the two top ministers was still on show at the press conference. Robinson declined to shake hands with McGuinness when invited to do so by a reporter.

“I’m not into political stunts,” he said.

The DUP leader has consistently refused to shake hands publicly with McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader, though they privately shook hands last month when McGuinness sympathized with Robinson’s family difficulties.

The devolution of policing and justice powers by the British Government is of critical importance to Sinn Fein, which persuaded its voters to accept the partition of Ireland partly on the basis that nationalists would jointly control law and order.

Before the Northern Ireland “Troubles” began 40 years ago, a majority unionist government controlled a paramilitary police force known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The police force was demilitarized under direct British rule and renamed the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to make it more widely acceptable.

According to the agreement, a six-member working group is to be established to provide local solutions that respect the rights of those who parade as well as nationalist residents.

“This is the last chapter of a long and troubled story and the beginning of a new chapter after decades of violence, years of talks, weeks of stalemate,” commented Brown, whose prospects in this year’s British general election will have been improved by the success of negotiations he and Cowen have sponsored.

Cowen said he believed the deal laid the foundations for a new future “built on mutual respect for people of different traditions, equality and tolerance and respect for each other’s political aspirations and cultural expressions and inheritance.”

The end of 120 hours of negotiations came just before midnight Feb. 4 when Robinson secured agreement from his assembly party. He still faces opposition from a hard-line unionist faction, the Traditional Unionist Voice, led by Jim Allister.

Allister alleged that the DUP had caved in and accepted a deal they had originally rejected. “The deal hasn’t changed, only the snowmen of the DUP, who melted once the heat came on,” he said.