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Hard-won deal

There was, effectively, a third party in the room, that being a faction of the DUP that was opposed to the deal, though not to the extent that it ultimately headed for the exits.

The DUP dissidents, most prominently Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell and Willie McCrea, are now ostensibly lined up behind party leader Peter Robinson and his supporters. But for how long?

The recent history of agreement-based politics in the North shows that actual agreements can have the effect of fracturing internal party consensus. This has been especially the case with once monolithic unionism which is now poised to head into the upcoming Westminster election with three competing banner carriers, one of them being the less than united DUP.

That said, the deal hammered out, and the expectations that now arise as a result, is to be warmly welcomed. If Northern Ireland is to lay claim to a truly broad based political normality its government has to be in charge of local law enforcement and the administration of justice, the kind that people living in the Six Counties feel they have a say and stake in.

The thorny issue of parades was long-fingered for now though it remains not just a potential agent for destabilization, but an issue that is ripe for exploitation by the less politically scrupulous.

It is to be hoped that what has been agreed behind closed doors at Hillsborough Castle survives its broader political airing. It has been the case in the recent past that what has been apparently agreed in conclave can sometimes be interpreted differently by the parties when they return to report to their respective constituencies.

This time, however, it would seem that agreement was in large part secured by what the negotiators were hearing from those same constituencies.

North voters have enough to be concerned about with regard to their present economic state of affairs than to be lured down the path of division on an issue that is the responsibility of any government that calls itself responsible.

The people of the North won out this time. It is only to be hoped that they are allowed to savor their victory over the long run.

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