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Northern Ireland ratifies police deal

  • British government agrees to finance devolution
  • Brown, Irish PM Cowen had flown in for emergency talks with parties last month

(CNN) -- The Northern Ireland legislature ratified an agreement to "devolve," or bring under local control, the province's police forces.

The measure passed Tuesday after 88 of the 105 legislators voted in favor of the agreement.

"Today the politics of progress have finally replaced the politics of division in Northern Ireland," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement. "The completion of devolution, supported by all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, is the final end to decades of strife. It sends the most powerful message to those who would return to violence: that democracy and tolerance will prevail."

Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, the two largest political parties in the province, had been in a bitter political standoff for months over how to devolve police powers.

Today the politics of progress have finally replaced the politics of division in Northern Ireland
--British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

When it appeared that negotiations would fail last month, Brown and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen flew in for emergency talks with the parties. Had no agreement been reached, it could have brought the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly -- the legislature -- and forced new elections.

Because the power-sharing deal set up by the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 is fragile, there were fears that new elections might imperil the peace process.

Instead, an agreement was reached last month, and on Tuesday, all 44 Sinn Fein lawmakers voted in favor of the agreement, as well as 35 of 52 unionists. Nine others outside the two major parties also voted for ratification.

Brown has said the devolution of policing and justice powers will happen April 12.

In addition, the British government has agreed to finance that devolution by making 800 million pounds ($1.26 billion) available.

CNN's Eileen Hsieh and Sarah Sultoon contributed to this report.