LONDON (AP) — Britain and Ireland say they have struck a deal to restore the Northern Ireland government, exactly three years after it collapsed amid a feud between the main Catholic and Protestant power-sharing parties.
The British and Irish governments said Thursday they had submitted a draft proposal to revive the Belfast-based Northern Ireland Assembly and administration.
The U.K.’s Northern Ireland Secretary, Julian Smith, said the parties had not agreed to all of it, but he was asking the assembly to reconvene Friday in hope the politicians would back the deal.
"We have had three years of talks and there is finally a good deal on the table that all parties can support," he said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also urged acceptance, saying "it's now time their politicians stepped up and fully represented their constituents."
Initial signs were encouraging. The main Protestant group, the Democratic Unionist Party, said it was “not a perfect deal," but could be supported.
“On balance we believe there is a basis upon which the assembly and executive can re-established in a fair and balanced way," said DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Northern Ireland's 1.8 million people have been without a functioning administration since the power-sharing government collapsed in January 2017 over a botched green-energy project. The rift soon widened to broader cultural and political issues separating Northern Ireland's British unionists and Irish nationalists.
The U.K.’s looming departure from the European Union, due on Jan. 31, has given new urgency to attempts to restore the government. Northern Ireland has the U.K.’s only border with an EU member country, and Brexit will challenge the status of the currently invisible frontier, potentially pushing Northern Ireland into a closer embrace with its southern member, the Republic of Ireland. Both of the two main parties -- the DUP and Sinn Fein -- want a say on what happens next.
Northern Ireland also faced a Jan. 13 deadline to restore the government or face new elections for the assembly that could see Sinn Fein and the DUP lose ground to less intransigent parties.