THE prospect of a multi-billion pound aid package for Northern Ireland has been raised as Boris Johnson hailed the "wonderful" cross-party compromise which has secured the return of power-sharing in Northern Ireland.

The Prime Minister praised politicians who had "put aside their differences, stepped up to the plate and showed leadership" in reaching the so-called "New Decade, New Approach" deal, which has seen Stormont revived after a three-year suspension during which public services like healthcare and education have suffered.

After meeting the Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein’s Vice President Michelle O'Neill, the new First and Deputy First Ministers, and taking lunch with Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach, Mr Johnson - in reference to a famous quote by former premier Tony Blair - said: "Never mind the hand of history on my shoulder, I see the hand of the future beckoning us all forward.

"And I hope with goodwill, compromise and hard work on all sides it will be a very bright future indeed."

But the question of how much taxpayers’ money the UK Government was prepared to stump up was in politicians’ minds.

Edwin Poots, the DUP’s Agriculture Minister, suggested the figure could be more than £2 billion.

Referring to talks with Julian Smith he told BBC Radio Ulster the Northern Ireland Secretary “didn't want to make any promise of a figure and I said: 'Well, all you have to say is 'billions,'' and that would be, of course, at least two billion”.

Mr Poots raised the possibility of extra money coming with “strings attached” such as hiking water rates.

After Mr Smith pledged major investment to help the province's struggling public services, Mr Johnson said: "We are, in the UK Government, making huge commitments, which will be passed through, obviously, the Barnett consequentials, to Northern Ireland in healthcare.

"I have heard the arguments made to me this morning. We are listening very carefully and we will certainly do everything we can to support," he added.

Mrs Foster, who ruled out imposing water charges as a revenue-raising measure, insisted: “The PM must deliver. We have stepped up to the plate in relation to the political agreement…it is now incumbent on him to step relation to financial resources.

"We need significant and sustained investment, not just this year but over a number of years.”

Ms O'Neill echoed the point, saying: "All Executive ministers are committed to working together to tackle some very serious issues in our society and across public services. But, quite simply, we need the money to make it happen.”

Conor Murphy, Stormont's Finance Minister, added: “We know what the figure is, the Prime Minister knows what the figure is, but we need to go down, hammer that out and get the money."

Top of the Executive's in-tray is an industrial dispute in the health service that has seen nurses take strike action on three occasions in the last month.

Under the terms of the new deal, the Executive will also take action to reduce spiralling hospital waiting lists, extend mitigation payments for benefit claimants hit by welfare reforms, increase the number of police officers on the beat and resolve an industrial dispute involving teachers.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson acknowledged that, post Brexit, there could be checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea that were destined for the Republic but insisted he could “not see any circumstances” in which this would happen because he was confident of securing a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal with Brussels.

The PM also made clear he stood by the Conservatives' General Election manifesto pledge to protect armed forces veterans of the 30-year Troubles from unfair prosecutions without new evidence.

Johnny Mercer, the Veterans Minister, acknowledged there would be "a lot of questions" around the legacy issues but insisted: “We are totally committed to what the Prime Minister has said previously about ending vexatious prosecutions of our troops where there is no new evidence.”