THE NEW CHAPTER; Brown Welcomes Agreement on Northern Ireland Government

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PREMIER Gordon Brown yesterday hailed a deal between Ulster's warring factions which saves their power-sharing government.

He said: "We are closing the last chapter of a long and troubled story and we are opening a new chapter for Northern Ireland."

After 10 days of negotiations, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party agreed they would take over the running of police and courts, hopefully by April 12.

It means the province will be fully self-governing and completes the peace deal which started under Tony Blair.

The deal will also lessen the threat of a return to violence by paramilitary forces.

Unveiling the deal at Hillsborough Castle, Mr Brown said: "This is the day we have secured the future." He added that the agreement was made possible because of "a new spirit of mutual co-operation".

Irish Premier Brian Cowen described the deal as "an essential step for peace, stability and security" which laid the foundations for a better future.

Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader, acknowledged the "frustration" that the deal had taken so long.

But he added: "There would have been even greater frustration if we did a deal that collapsed."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams welcomed the DUP's decision to back the deal. He said: "There's a wonderful chance now in a new spirit for us all to go forward."

The party's Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister, added: "This might just be the day when the political process in the north came of age. We are dealing with centuries-old difficulties here.

"If we are to succeed, we have to show people at grassroots level that we can work together."

Later, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness to Washington to discuss American investment in the province, She said: "This has not been an easy road. I have been in regular contact with the parties since my trip to Belfast in October, and I know that at times the path forward was far from clear.

"Now, we join the world in looking to the leaders of Northern Ireland to build upon their efforts by promoting a new spirit of co-operation. …