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Northern Ireland government salvaged by deal

A deal has been reached to ensure the territory's power-sharing government can continue after a months-long stand off. Ministers have published a 67-page document to tackle rows over security, the economy and welfare.

Northern Ireland's power-sharing government is to resume normal work after a months-long stalement which threatened a nearly two-decades old peace deal.

A new agreement, entitled "A Fresh Start," was agreed by the main political parties on Tuesday, which many commentators believe has pulled the devolved administration for the British territory back from the brink of collapse.

The pro-British Protestant and secessionist Catholic leaders of the coalition, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, stood side by side as they praised the agreement as a landmark compromise.

Months of stalemate

The work of the government has been paralyzed for more than a year due to the often fractious relationship between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), who are pro-British, and Sinn Fein, which wants Northern Ireland to be part of the Republic of Ireland.

In September, First Minister Peter Robinson resigned due to the stalemate.

Tensions further in August when the Irish Republican Army (IRA) - which played a leading role during three decades of sectarian violence known as "The Troubles" was accused of killing a former member in a revenge attack. It was the first killing pinned to the outlawed group since the rise of power-sharing.

Security fears tackled

Tuesday's deal included several measures to allay suspicions about the ongoing role of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland despite the IRA's 2005 renouncement of arms, which led to a 1998 peace deal and the formation of a power-sharing government.

A new pledge of office, along with plans to form a new all-Ireland organized crime task force, would put "those still involved in terror and criminality out of business once and for all," said Robinson, whose Democratic Unionist Party represents the Protestant majority.

Stormont parliament in Belfast

For months the power-sharing executive at Stormont has been deadlocked over budgetary and security issues

Struggling economy

Tuesday's deal will see around 675 million euros (500 million pounds) of extra funding from London to help soften the blow of Britain's deep austerity measures among Northern Ireland's 1.8 million population.

The cash will help tackle issues "unique to Northern Ireland" such as the removal of so-called "peace walls," 15-meter-high "fences" that separate some among the communities.

Corporation tax will be also cut to 12.5 percent by 2018 to better compete with Ireland for foreign direct investment.

British Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the agreement as "an important turning point for Northern Ireland."

"The agreement secures sustainability for Northern Ireland's budget, sets out how we'll deal with paramilitary groups and could provide a basis for a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland," he added.

mm/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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