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Last Updated: Monday, 5 February 2007, 09:10 GMT
Ahern and Hain in deadline threat
Peter Hain and Bertie Ahern
The governments issued a warning about devolution
Northern Ireland must have devolution by the end of March or its assembly will be dissolved, the British and Irish governments have warned.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain met in Cardiff ahead of the Six Nations rugby game between Ireland and Wales.

Elections in Northern Ireland are scheduled for 7 March.

The governments said anyone who tries to delay devolution beyond the 26 March deadline "will be left behind".

They said: "The election on 7 March must be about the future of Northern Ireland, and that future lies in a locally accountable, devolved power-sharing assembly and executive.

"There is no future in basing a political strategy on trying to delay devolution past 26 March, or trying to prevent it altogether."

Speaking earlier, Mr Ahern said recent events, such as Sinn Fein's endorsement of policing, offered hope for the future.

Stormont
The assembly at Stormont has been suspended since 2002
And Mr Hain told GMTV the path to power-sharing would not be easy, but he still believed it would happen.

"I don't expect any handshakes for the cameras, what I expect is a very scratchy election campaign and probably a bit scratchy thereafter," he said.

"But the difference here, is not just the things I described, it's that the conditions are in place for stable government with support for policing and the rule of law and a commitment to power-sharing on all sides."

The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in 2002 amid allegations of a republican spying ring.

In October 2006, Ireland and the UK negotiated the St Andrews Agreement - a road map towards the restoration of the power-sharing government.

A new power-sharing executive is due to be formed on 26 March.


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