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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 22:31 GMT
DUP doubts over devolution date
Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds suggested devolution was unlikely by next March
DUP MP Nigel Dodds has cast doubt on the chances of Northern Ireland achieving devolution by next March.

Mr Dodds was speaking after Belfast City Council defeated an SDLP proposal that the parties should welcome the draft St Andrews Agreement.

Both Sinn Fein and the DUP said it was premature as no deal was in place.

Mr Dodds told the BBC the timeframe, set down by the British and Irish governments following three days of talks in Scotland, was unlikely.

"I can't say what will be delivered in the meantime, but I just think it increasingly looks unrealistic," he said.

"Given the sort of noises we are hearing about Sinn Fein; about policing, the difficulties they are having; their unwillingness to call an Ard Fheis to get this through, and the fact that there will have to be a period of delivery and testing... I think it's increasingly unlikely."

His remarks came amid efforts to underpin the St Andrews plan with a financial package.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has promised 50bn to Northern Ireland over the next 10 years if power is devolved at Stormont.

Electoral endorsement

The British and Irish governments have set a date of 26 March 2007 for a new executive to be up and running.

The parties have until 10 November to respond to the plan.

DUP leader Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein are due to become shadow first and deputy first ministers on 24 November.

But the DUP has insisted that a pledge of support for policing is in place before then.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said there would have to be some form of electoral endorsement of the plan - either an election or a referendum.

The government's plan also envisages the devolution of policing and justice powers in two years from the creation of the executive.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended on 14 October 2002 amid allegations of a republican spy ring at Stormont.

The court case that followed collapsed and one of those charged, Denis Donaldson, later admitted working as a British agent.

Direct rule from London was restored in October 2002 and has been in place since.


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