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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 February 2007, 13:04 GMT
Obstacles to devolution 'removed'
Peter Hain, NI secretary
Peter Hain said devolution was a "tremendous prize"
All remaining obstacles to devolution in Northern Ireland have been removed, according to the secretary of state.

Peter Hain was responding to questions in the House of Commons about the prospects for power-sharing on March 26.

Meanwhile, Criminal Justice Minister David Hanson said if an executive was not formed by 26 March the assembly would be dissolved.

He said that date was set down in the St Andrews Agreement.

Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly are due to take place on 7 March.

Speaking during Northern Ireland Questions on Wednesday, Mr Hain said if there was continued delivery on support for policing and the rule of law from Sinn Fein, there would be no reason for any unionist not to join a power-sharing executive on 26 March.

DUP MP Willie McCrea said the DUP's position was "condition-led, not calendar-led".

However, Mr Hain described devolution as a "tremendous prize" for all parties and said if it was missed it would lead to a "very bleak future" for Northern Ireland for a very long time.

On Tuesday, Mr Hanson warned politicians against trying to delay or stop the introduction of devolution next month.

David Hanson
All that has happened since the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis has reinforced our view that 'delivery' can and will be done by May 2008
David Hanson
Criminal Justice Minister

Speaking after the third Reading of the Justice and Security Bill in the House of Commons, he said: "Anyone who is basing their political strategy on pushing devolution beyond March 26 or trying to stop devolution altogether will find that they will be left behind."

He said the point had come for local politicians where the process outside office must end so progress in office could begin.

He warned: "If the executive is not formed on 26 March 2007, the assembly will dissolve and the world will move on.

"After everything that has been done to get us to this point it would be unthinkable to fail now."

Mr Hanson said the Northern Ireland of 2007 was not the Northern Ireland of 1977 and could move forward to the day when the devolution process was complete.

That, he said, would come with the devolution of policing and justice powers which the government had said should be achieved by May 2008.

"All that has happened since the Sinn Fein ard fheis has reinforced our view that 'delivery' can and will be done by May 2008," said Mr Hanson.

Road map

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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