Sinn Fein and the DUP have reached an historic deal that will see the two parties sharing power in six weeks' time.
The agreement was reached during face-to-face talks between Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams and DUP leader Ian Paisley.
The meeting was arranged after the DUP leadership rejected the British Government's deadline of this evening for the restoration of devolution.
However, the unionist party, which was facing a major rift in its ranks over the issue, promised that it would share power with republicans in May.
The British Government has already said it is happy to delay the restoration of devolution if the two parties reach a deal on the matter among themselves.
Speaking after today's meeting, Mr Adams said he was disappointed with the delay, but believed the DUP was genuinely committed to sharing power in six weeks.
Dr Paisley, meanwhile, said he believed "enormous opportunities" lie ahead for making a positive difference to people's lives and said the past should not be a barrier to creating a better future.
Both sides said regular meetings would continue in the coming weeks to draw up an agreed programme for government and confirmed that they had already agreed to ask the Northern Secretary not to issue any water-charge bills this week and to leave the matter for the local parties to resolve.
"This is a very important day for the people of Northern Ireland, but also for the people and the history of these islands.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "In a sense, everything we have done over the last 10 years has been a preparation for this moment, because the people of Northern Ireland have spoken through the election.
"They have said we want peace and power-sharing and the political leadership has then come in behind that and said we will deliver what people want."