Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Friday, 14 March 2008

Timeline: Northern Ireland Assembly

Devolution of most central government power to a Northern Ireland Assembly was a key element of the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998.

BBC News Online outlines the main events in the assembly's brief, but troubled history.

16 February 1999: Deadline of 10 March is set to establish the executive and is later postponed to 2 April - Good Friday.

20 May 1999: Prime Minister Tony Blair sets an absolute deadline of 30 June for agreement on the formation of an executive, or the assembly will be suspended.

30 June 1999: The deadline passes without agreement. Tony Blair agrees to an extension.

18 November 1999: Former US senator George Mitchell reveals details of the plan to rescue the peace process and allowing the setting up of a power-sharing government.

27 November 1999: The Ulster Unionist Council backs the Mitchell deal by 480 votes to 349 - paving the way for devolution within days.

Weapons decommissioning

29 November 1999: The Northern Ireland Assembly meets and the d'Hondt mechanism is triggered and 10 ministers are nominated to the Northern Ireland Executive.

2 December 1999: Power is passed from Westminster to Belfast and the new Northern Ireland Executive meets for the first time. The IRA announces that it has appointed a representative to the international body on decommissioning.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair insisted election would go ahead on 26 November

11 February 2000: No deal is struck on decommissioning and Secretary of State Peter Mandelson signs the order to suspend the assembly.

6 May 2000: The IRA releases a statement saying it is ready to begin a process that would "completely and verifiably" put its arms beyond use. The statement follows a proposal to restore the assembly, linked to a firm commitment to decommissioning.

27 May 2000: David Trimble secures the backing of his party to re-enter the power-sharing assembly at Stormont despite no decommissioning of IRA arms. Two days later devolved power is restored.

26 June 2000: The two international arms inspectors report that they have been secretly taken to IRA arms dumps, inspected them and concluded that the arms cannot be used without their detection.

16 November 2000: Sinn Fein begin a legal challenge against First Minister David Trimble's ban on them taking part in North-South ministerial councils.

30 January 2001: The High Court rules that David Trimble's ban on Sinn Fein ministers is illegal.

The Assembly has been suspended several times
The assembly has been suspended several times
8 May 2001: UK Prime Minister Tony Blair calls a general election for 7 June. Launching his own campaign and attempting to head off a substantial challenge from the Democratic Unionists, David Trimble tells the UUP that he will resign as First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 1 July if there has been no progress from the IRA on decommissioning.

1 July 2001: First Minister David Trimble resigns - but nominates fellow UUP minister Reg Empey as caretaker, triggering a six-week period in which to resolve the impasse over arms.

Political crisis

1 August 2001: The British and Irish governments unveil a package of proposals, discussed at Weston Park in July, aimed at breaking the deadlock and give the parties less than a week to respond.

6 August 2001: The international arms decommissioning body headed by General John de Chastelain says the IRA has put forward a plan to put its weapons "beyond use".

10 August 2001: With no sign that the IRA is about to decommission and no sign that the unionists will accept anything but, Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid suspends the devolved institutions for 24 hours starting from Saturday 11th.

12 August 2001: Devolution is restored, resetting the clock for a deal by six weeks.

19 September 2001: Two days before the deadline for solving the political crisis, the IRA releases a statement saying that it is "intensifying" its engagement with the decommissioning body.

Arms inspectors
Cyril Ramaphosa and Maarti Ahtisaari made arms inspections

21 September 2001: John Reid announces the second technical suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly after a failure to break the deadlock and reinstate a first minister. He insists that it will be the last time that he carries out the technical order.

23 October 2001: The IRA announces that it has begun a process of putting arms beyond use in line with an agreement with the Independent International Decommissioning Commission. Hours later the IICD confirms it has witnessed the disposal of arms and describes it as "significant".

24 October 2001: David Trimble renominates UUP ministers to the NI Executive, thereby preventing its collapse.

2 November 2001: David Trimble fails to become first minister after two rebel members of his own party vote against him.

Devolution in trouble

3 November 2001: Pro-Agreement parties strike a deal to re-elect David Trimble by redesignating three Alliance Party members as unionists.

8 April 2002: After weeks of speculation, the IRA says it has put a second tranche of its arsenal "beyond use".

John Reid
John Reid suspended the Assembly in October 2002

1 May 2002: John Reid says a ceasefire is not enough from the IRA, there needs to also be a "sense that the war is over".

21 September 2002: David Trimble says his party will withdraw from the power-sharing executive at Stormont on 18 January if republicans do not demonstrate they have left violence behind for good.

4 October 2002: Sinn Fein's offices at Stormont are raided as part of a major police investigation into alleged intelligence gathering by republicans. Mr Trimble warns that the assembly may not survive if action is not taken by the British Government against Sinn Fein.

14 October 2002: John Reid announces the suspension of devolution and the return of direct rule by London ministers from midnight.

10 April 2003: The British and Irish governments postpone at the last minute the publication of a blueprint to restore devolution to Northern Ireland.

1 May 2003: Prime Minister Tony Blair announces he is postponing assembly elections until the autumn because of a lack of clarity over the IRA's position. He accuses the IRA of point-blank refusing to completely rule out all paramilitary-related behaviour as described by the governments. At the same time, the governments publish the much-delayed blueprint for tying up the final issues on the Good Friday Agreement.

6 May 2003: The IRA releases two statements on the peace process. The first was the draft that had been passed to the prime ministers in April. The second commented on the state of the peace process.

Monitoring Commission

17 June 2003: David Trimble wins the narrow backing of his party for London and Dublin's proposals for breaking the impasse over the Good Friday Agreement. MP Jeffrey Donaldson, Martin Smyth and David Burnside later announce they are resigning the party whip in protest against Mr Trimble's policies.

4 September 2003: Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA, joins the four-strong Independent Monitoring Commission charged with scrutinising paramilitary ceasefires. The three other commissioners are: John Grieve, formerly a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, Lord Alderdice, the first Presiding Officer of the NI Assembly and Joseph Brosnan, former Secretary General of the Department of Justice in Ireland. The announcement comes as the main parties tentatively begin exploratory talks aimed at restoring devolution.

John De Chastelain heads Decommissioning Commission
John De Chastelain heads Decommissioning Commission

19 October 2003: Behind the scenes contacts continue between Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionists and British and Irish officials as efforts continue to broker a deal to restore devolution.

21 October 2003: After Downing Street announces 26 November as the assembly election date, arms chief John de Chastelain says a third act of IRA decommissioning has been witnessed. However, Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble says the arms report is not enough and more transparency is needed. He puts moves towards a pre-election deal "on hold".Following more talks at Hillsborough, Tony Blair insists the assembly election will go ahead on 26 November.

22 October 2003: Talks resume in a bid to break the impasse.

26 November 2003: The Assembly election takes place, with the DUP and Sinn Fein emerging as the largest parties within unionism and nationalism.

18 December 2003: Rebel Ulster Unionist MP Jeffrey Donaldson quits the party along with two newly elected assembly members, Arlene Foster and Norah Beare.

22 December 2003: UUP leader David Trimble says he will remain leader of the party.

5 January 2004:Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson joins the DUP along with two other former UUP MLAs, who left the party in December.

3 February 2004: A review of the working of the Good Friday Agreement involving all the political parties begins at Stormont.

20 February 2004: Dissident republican Bobby Tohill is taken from a Belfast bar. The van he was being held in is stopped by the police. Chief Constable Hugh Orde says the incident was an abduction attempt which members of the Provisional IRA were behind.

Process stalled

24 February 2004: The Tohill incident is described as a "serious breach" by Secretary of State Paul Murphy who asks the Independent Monitoring Commission to investigate.

2 March 2004: The UUP leader pulls his team from the review saying the failure by the government to exclude Sinn Fein following the alleged false imprisonment of a dissident republican was "quite appalling". The review process stalls.

23 March 2004: Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern meet the parties in Belfast. They say a breakthrough is needed in the talks process before the European elections in June.

27 March 2004: David Trimble is re-elected as Ulster Unionist Party leader.

20 April 2004: The IMC backs the chief constable over the Tohill affair and recommends financial sanctions against Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party in response to continuing IRA and loyalist violence. The government accepts the recommendation, despite protests from Sinn Fein and the PUP.

26 May 2004: The review is put on hold for the European election.

11 June 2004: In the European election, the UUP's Jim Nicholson keeps his seat; The DUP's Jim Allister replaces party leader Ian Paisley in Europe and Sinn Fein's Bairbre de Brun becomes an MEP after Martin Morgan is unable to retain the SDLP's seat.

15 June 2004: Review talks resume at Stormont.

Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair outside Leeds Castle
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair chaired the Leeds Castle talks
22 July 2004: DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson says unionists will guarantee the stability of political institutions in Northern Ireland if republicans abandon paramilitarism for good.

27 July 2004: The Northern Ireland Office confirms that the British and Irish prime ministers will host a new round of political talks aimed at restoring the assembly in late September. The venue is later revealed as Leeds Castle, Kent. Preliminary talks in Belfast start at the beginning of September.

10 September 2004: Prime Minister Tony Blair says the Leeds Castle talks will show if there is the will among the political parties to end violence and share power. Paul Murphy says the negotiations will be the most critical in the peace process.

Leeds Castle

18 September 2004: Three days of intensive negotiations at Leeds Castle end with the parties failing to reach agreement. Despite this, there is a mood of cautious optimism among party leaders and the prime ministers, and further talks aimed at resolving various sticking points are to continue at Stormont.

4 October 2004: DUP leader Ian Paisley has a landmark meeting in Dublin with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. It was the first time Mr Paisley had led a political delegation to meet an Irish prime minister in Dublin. It came amid continuing efforts to iron out the sticking points encountered at Leeds Castle.

18 October 2004: Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy says he hopes a breakthrough in the political process is just weeks away, although he concedes two days later that the governments still face some "very difficult" issues in bridging the gap between the DUP and Sinn Fein.

23 October 2004: Sinn Fein chairman Mitchel McLaughlin says the DUP is seeking to humiliate the IRA over its demand for visible decommissioning. DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson says his party's position on IRA disarmament and activity had been "clear and consistent throughout the negotiating process".

28 October 2004: The Independent Monitoring Commission says the IRA shows no signs of winding down its capability. The ceasefire watchdog's third report said the UDA remained heavily involved in organised crime and the UVF remained a "ruthless organisation retaining a capacity for more widespread violence". Paramilitary violence had "considerably reduced" in the last six months but remained "at a disturbingly high level", the commission found.

8 November 2004: Bertie Ahern says it would be an "enormous tragedy" if a breakthrough was not made in the Northern Ireland political process in the next two weeks.

12 November 2004: The British Government officially recognises the UDA's ceasefire in a bid to bring loyalists more fully into the political process. Paul Murphy says he believes that Northern Ireland's biggest loyalist paramilitary group is ready to move away from violence. Government recognition for the UDA ceasefire was removed in October 2001 because of its involvement in violence. The group declared a new ceasefire in February 2004.

British-Irish blueprint

17 November 2004: The two governments put their proposals aimed at breaking the political stalemate to the DUP and Sinn Fein. The plans followed two months of continuing negotiations aimed at exploring a way around the stumbling blocks faced at Leeds Castle. The two parties begin consulting with their members about the blueprint, which is not made public.

24 November 2004: Ian Paisley hands Tony Blair his party's response to the proposals. Both parties continue high-level negotiations with the governments, although no direct negotiations take place because the DUP refuses to talk directly with Sinn Fein. Both parties are backing the creation of a £1bn peace fund as part of the price tag for any deal.

26/28 November 2004: US president George W Bush telephones Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams to offer his support to efforts to achieve a breakthrough in the process. Both parties have concerns about the British-Irish proposals which they want resolved.

29 November 2004: Gerry Adams holds a groundbreaking first meeting with the head of Northern Ireland's police force. Top of the agenda is demilitarisation - the scaling down of the military presence in Northern Ireland. He describes his meeting with PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde at Downing Street as "useful". The meeting came as Ian Paisley met the head of the decommissioning body to discuss any possible IRA disarmament.

Ian Paisley outside Downing Street
Ian Paisley insisted on photographic proof of IRA decommissioning
30 November 2004: Ian Paisley gives the message to the IRA that a deal to restore devolution is "now or never". But he also repeats his call for the IRA to "wear sackcloth and ashes" and repent for its actions. Gerry Adams says Mr Paisley's comments are "offensive".

1 December 2004: Gerry Adams says the political process has reached a "defining point" but the current talks could go no further. "As far as we are concerned we have made our final representations on the governments' text," he said.

4 December 2004: Ian Paisley meets decommissioning body chief General John de Chastelain for the second time in less than a week. He said it was unrealistic to set deadlines for a political deal when the IRA has still not discussed decommissioning with General de Chastelain. Meanwhile, Gerry Adams appealed to republicans not to be provoked by the "unacceptable language" used by Mr Paisley. He said comments made by Mr Paisley that he would have to "swallow hard" to do business with republicans, were an acknowledgement of the prospect of Sinn Fein in government.

7 December 2004: Gerry Adams recommends that his party should accept the British-Irish proposals, saying that its negotiations had resolved issues of concern and succeeded in strengthening key provisions of the Agreement. It came hours after Ian Paisley said the main stumbling block to any deal remained decommissioning.

8 December 2004: Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern travel to Belfast to make their proposals public. These include a plan for the IRA to allow photographs to be taken of its weapons being put beyond use in the presence of independent witnesses. However, Ian Paisley's DUP say they are not signing up, because the IRA is refusing photographs of decommissioning. Mr Paisley says "significant progress" has been made on all aspects of the comprehensive agreement with the exception of how decommissioning would be handled. Gerry Adams says that progress is being held up by "the demand for a process of humiliation".

9 December 2004: The IRA says it is committed to the peace process but would "not submit to a process of humiliation". In a statement in republican newspaper An Phoblacht, the organisation says in the event of a deal, it would end its activities, complete decommissioning by December "if possible" with two clergymen overseeing the process. It says DUP demands for photographic proof of decommissioning were "never possible" and an excuse for rejecting a power-sharing deal which could "remove the causes of conflict".

13 December 2004: The British and Irish prime ministers hold separate meetings with Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in London and Dublin. After his meeting, Bertie Ahern says he accepts that the issue of photographs for verifying decommissioning is not workable. Both he and Mr Adams said they would continue to close the gap on the remaining issues before Christmas.

The Northern Bank robbery

21 December 2004: An armed gang steals £26.5m from the Northern Bank in Belfast city centre, casting a long shadow over the political negotiations amid speculation the IRA was responsible. The IRA later says it was not involved in the bank robbery and Sinn Fein leaders say they believe this denial.

Northern Bank robbery scene
The IRA was widely blamed for the £26.5m Northern Bank robbery
7 January 2005: Chief Constable Hugh Orde says the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery. A Downing Street statement says Tony Blair had made it clear the political institutions could only be restored if there was a "complete end" to all paramilitary and criminal activity. Bertie Ahern says trust and confidence in the peace process has been damaged.

30 January 2005: Difficulties in the process are compounded when IRA members are implicated in the killing of Robert McCartney, who was stabbed to death near a Belfast bar. Over the coming year, Mr McCartney's sisters lead a high-profile campaign calling for his killers to be brought to justice. The IRA later expels three members

17 March 2005: US President George W Bush meets Robert McCartney's sisters and partner at the White House on St Patrick's Day, attracting global media interest. Unlike previous years, Northern Ireland's politicians were not invited to the celebrations.

6 April 2005: Gerry Adams appeals to the IRA to help rebuild the political process, asking it to "fully embrace and accept" democratic means. He made the call at the outset of campaigning for the Westminster election. The call followed a difficult few months for the party, which had come under increasing pressure over claims of continued IRA criminality.

6 May 2005: The DUP emerges as the big winner in the general election, winning nine constituencies. Its biggest scalp is Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble, who later steps down after defeat in the Upper Bann constituency. He is later replaced as leader by Sir Reg Empey, who is left to oversee a party which has just one remaining MP. Meanwhile, Sinn Fein becomes the biggest nationalist party in Westminster, winning five seats, although the SDLP avoid the electoral disaster predicted by some commentators, securing three seats. Paul Murphy is replaced as Northern Ireland Secretary by Peter Hain, who will combine the job with his other duties as Welsh secretary.

IRA announces end to armed campaign

Former IRA H-Block prisoner Seanna Walsh
The IRA statement was delivered by former hunger striker Seanna Walsh
28 July 2005: The IRA formally orders an end to its armed campaign and says it will pursue exclusively peaceful means. It says it will follow a democratic path, ending more than 30 years of violence. Gerry Adams hails the move as a "courageous and confident initiative". Tony Blair says it is a "step of unparalleled magnitude". A sceptical Ian Paisley says the IRA had "reverted to type" after previous "historic" statements. The IRA made its decision after an internal debate prompted by Mr Adams's call in April to pursue its goals exclusively through politics.

1 August 2005: The government sets out a two-year plan to scale down the Army's presence in Northern Ireland and change the way the province is policed. The number of troops will be reduced from 10,500 to about 5,000 if the security climate is right. The government says it is also aiming to repeal within two years counter terrorist legislation particular to Northern Ireland. Army posts will also be closed and police stations defortified. A day later, it is announced that the Northern Ireland-based battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment are to be disbanded as part of the Army response to the IRA ending its armed campaign. The Army will end its support role to the police on 1 August 2007, the same day that the battalions will disband. Unionists react angrily to the move, which nationalists welcomed.

19 August 2005: Former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam dies aged 55 following a fall at home. She had overseen the talks which led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid
Rev Harold Good and Fr Alec Reid witnessed decommissioning
26 September 2005: Arms decommissioning body head General John de Chastelain says the IRA has put all of its weapons beyond use. The two churchmen who witnessed the process, Catholic priest Father Alec Reid and ex-Methodist president Rev Harold Good, say they are "satisfied that the arms decommissioned represent the totality of the IRA's arsenal". Ian Paisley says questions remain without photographic proof, an inventory and details on how the weapons were destroyed.

22 November 2005: Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain unveils the biggest proposed shake-up in Northern Ireland's local government for more than 30 years, with district councils being reduced from 26 to seven. It is part of a Review of Public Administration.

'Stormontgate' charges dropped

Denis Donaldson, flanked by Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams
Denis Donaldson publicly admitted being a spy
8 December 2005: Three Belfast men at the centre of an alleged IRA spying incident at Stormont are acquitted of all charges. The men, whose arrests led to the collapse of the power-sharing executive in 2002, claimed the case against them had been politically motivated. At an unlisted hearing at Belfast Crown Court, Ciaran Kearney, William Mackessy and Sinn Fein's Denis Donaldson are told all charges are being dropped. The prosecution offered no evidence "in the public interest".

16 December 2005: Veteran Sinn Fein figure Denis Donaldson admits he was a paid British agent for two decades. He is expelled from the party. Mr Donaldson headed the party's administration office at Stormont before his October 2002 arrest over an alleged spy ring led to its collapse. Mr Donaldson said there had not been any republican spy ring at Stormont.

11 January 2006: The government drops its controversial proposals on paramilitary fugitives, which would have seen those accused of paramilitary crimes before 1998 appear in front of a special tribunal, then be freed on licence. Mr Hain told Parliament the legislation dealing with so-called "on-the-runs" was necessary but Sinn Fein's rejection of it made it unworkable. The legislation had been widely opposed.

4 April 2006: Former senior Sinn Fein figure Denis Donaldson is found shot dead in a remote cottage in County Donegal. The IRA issued a statement saying it had "no involvement whatsoever" in Mr Donaldson's death, which came less than 48 hours before a planned visit to Northern Ireland by Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern to unveil their plans for reviving the assembly at Stormont.

Devolution blueprint

6 April 2006: Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern arrive in Northern Ireland to unveil their blueprint for restoring devolution. In it, assembly members are given until 24 November to set up a power-sharing executive. They confirm the assembly is to be recalled on 15 May with parties being given six weeks to elect an executive. If that fails, the 108 members get a further 12 weeks to try to form a multi-party devolved government. If that attempt fails, salaries will stop. They say the British and Irish governments would then work on partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement.

10 May 2006: Gerry Adams says his party would not be participating in the discussion of issues such as education reform water charges, health and rates increases because "that would be pointless". He says he will nominate Ian Paisley for the position of first minister when the assembly returns, but Mr Paisley insists there will be no first or deputy first minister until Sinn Fein "met its obligations".

15 May 2006: Northern Ireland's politicians take their seats in the Stormont assembly for the first time since its suspension in October 2002.

6 June 2006: The Preparation for Government Committee, which is preparing the way for the return of devolution, fails to reach an agreement over who should be chairperson. A few days later, the DUP's Jim Wells and Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy are appointed by the Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain.

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams
Policing has been a dividing issue between the DUP and Sinn Fein

29 June 2006: The UK and Irish prime ministers restate the 24 November deadline is the last chance for politicians to restore devolution, and warn that failure to meet the deadline would put the assembly in cold storage.

19 September 2006: The DUP begins its process of internal consultation on whether or not to share power with Sinn Fein. DUP leader Ian Paisley calls for the IRA to disband.

11 October 2006: Three days of intensive multi-party talks, aimed at brokering a deal to restore devolution, begin at St Andrews in Scotland. Tony Blair says there is a political will to make devolution work. Subsequently, the Northern Ireland parties are given until 10 November to respond to what the governments call the St Andrews Agreement.

13 October 2006: A roadmap to restore devolution to Northern Ireland is unveiled by the British and Irish governments. It contains a target date of 26 March 2007 for a new executive to be up and running.

Transitional assembly

17 October 2006: A meeting due to have been attended by Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams is postponed at Stormont. It comes after the DUP insist a pledge of support for policing and law and order is in place before Mr Paisley and Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness can become shadow first and deputy first ministers on 24 November.

16 November 2006: The government confirms a 7 March election date. A transitional assembly, which comes into effect on 24 November until the end of January 2007, is established until then.

David Ervine
The PUP's David Ervine died suddenly in January

24 November 2006: A transitional assembly is installed. The assembly meets to hear if the DUP and Sinn Fein would indicate ministerial choices. However, proceedings are interrupted as loyalist killer Michael Stone tries to force his way into Stormont. He is later charged with murder bids on Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness

4 December 2006: Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and the DUP's Ian Paisley have direct exchanges across the floor of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

18 December 2006: Former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party Lord Trimble announces he will not stand in the forthcoming assembly elections, following his elevation to the House of Lords earlier in the year. Mr Trimble was Northern Ireland's only first minister.

28 December 2006: Sinn Fein announces it is calling a special meeting of its executive to discuss the issue of republican backing for policing in Northern Ireland. Party leader Gerry Adams says he will put forward a motion asking for a special party-wide conference "on the policing issue". Sinn Fein support for policing is viewed as removing one of the main obstacles to restoring devolution.

4 January 2007: Tony Blair flies home a day early from holiday in Florida to try to rescue hopes of devolution returning by the end of March. The move comes after doubt is thrown on the Sinn Fein policing conference in the wake of what the party says is lack of a "positive enough" response from DUP leader Ian Paisley. If the conference does not go ahead, the March election may be in doubt.

8 January 2007: DUP leader Ian Paisley denies he ever agreed that policing and justice powers would be transferred to the Northern Ireland Assembly by 2008.

Progressive Unionist Party leader and East Belfast assembly member David Ervine dies after suffering a heart attack and subsequently a stroke and a brain haemorrhage.

Power-sharing and policing

17 January 2007: The Sinn Fein leadership says it will hold debates across Northern Ireland to sell to grass-roots republicans the idea of backing policing. The party's executive is to hold a special conference on the issue in Dublin on 28 January. More than 2,000 republicans will vote.

28 January 2007: Sinn Féin votes to support the police in Northern Ireland for the first time in the party's history. About 900 party members voted on the motion at a special party conference (Ard Fheis) in Dublin, which was carried by over 90%.

The former Crossmaglen police station
The guard post at Crossmaglen police station was removed in 2007

13 February 2007: The last remaining British army watchtower in south Armagh is dismantled. The guard post at Crossmaglen police station is taken down as part of the government's normalisation plans.

7 March 2007: Northern Ireland goes to the polls to elect candidates to the Assembly. The DUP are the largest party, winning 36 of the 108 seats. Sinn Féin take 28. The UUP win 18, the SDLP 16, and the Alliance Party seven. Anna Lo (Alliance) becomes the first person from an ethnic minority to take a seat in the Assembly.

24 March 2007: The DUP's ruling executive decides it will share power with Sinn Féin, and agrees to nominate ministers to a Stormont executive. The British and Irish governments had threatened to suspend plans for devolution if agreement could not be reached.

26 March 2007: Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams tell a news conference in Stormont that power-sharing will return to Northern Ireland on 8 May.

27 March 2007: DUP MEP Jim Allister resigns from the party in protest at its decision to share power with Sinn Féin. But he says he will not give up his seat as an MEP.

4 April 2007: Sinn Féin announces its ministerial nominations to Stormont. Conor Murphy will be the new minister for Regional Development, while Michelle Gildernew is the new minister for Agriculture. Catriona Ruane will follow in Martin McGuinness's footsteps to become the new minister for education, while Gerry Kelly will take on a junior post in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

16 April 2007: The DUP makes its nominations to Stormont. The former Ulster Unionist Arlene Foster will take on the Environment portfolio, while Peter Robinson, the DUP deputy leader, will hold the finance portfolio. North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds and Lagan Valley Assembly member Edwin Poots will be the ministers of enterprise and culture respectively. Ian Paisley Junior will be the DUP's junior minister in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

Devolution day

8 May 2007: Direct rule over Northern Ireland by Westminster officially ends after almost five years. DUP leader Ian Paisley and Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness are sworn in as First and Deputy First Ministers and take their pledges of office at Stormont, witnessed by British and Irish Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern. Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain is confident: "It's going to stick, I believe, because the DUP and Sinn Féin... these are the two most polarised forces in Northern Ireland's politics, they have done the deal."

31 May 2007: Sinn Féin takes its seats on the Policing Board for the first time. The party will be represented by Alex Maskey, Martina Anderson and Daithí McKay.

14 June 2007: The Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern is re-elected as the Irish taoiseach, or prime minister, for a third term.

Denis Bradley and Lord Eames
Denis Bradley and Lord Eames chair the Consultative Group on the Past
22 June 2007: An independent consultative group to find the best way to deal with the legacy of the Troubles is announced by the Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain. The group will be co-chaired by Denis Bradley, who was vice chairman of the Policing Board, and former Archbishop of Armagh, Lord Eames.

27 June 2007: Tony Blair resigns as British prime minister after ten years in office. During his time in power he witnessed the Good Friday Agreement, IRA weapons decommissioning, the suspension of direct rule and the re-establishment of a power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

13 September 2007: Taoiseach Bertie Ahern begins giving evidence at the Mahon Tribunal into planning corruption. He is asked to explain cash transactions of almost £100,000 which went through bank accounts on his behalf in the early 1990s. Mr Ahern denies any involvement in corrupt planning.

30 October 2007: The Minister for Social Development withdraws £1.2m in funding from a UDA-linked conflict transformation scheme. The group had refused to give up their weapons according to a deadline set by Margaret Ritchie, and insisted it would adhere to its own timetable for decommissioning.

Caitriona Ruane
The Education Minister made the announcement in the Assembly

4 December 2007: The Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, announces the end of the 11-plus transfer test exam, saying she wants to end the "outdated and unequal education system" which labelled 11-year-olds as "failures". There is widespread opposition to her proposals amongst unionists.

7 December 2007: The former DUP MEP, Jim Allister, forms a new anti-agreement party. The grouping, which is to be known as the Traditional Unionist Voice, will oppose power-sharing at Stormont.

24 December 2007: The Sinn Féin president, Gerry Adams, says that the transfer of policing and justice powers from Westminster to the Stormont assembly must be a priority in 2008. The Northern Ireland Office has earmarked May as a possible date.

8 January 2008: The group set up to consider how to deal with the legacy of the past is involved in controversy after a suggestion that the British government may be asked to formally say it fought a war against the IRA. There is also anger amongst unionists at suggestions of an amnesty for anyone involved in the Troubles.

18 February 2008: The DUP's Ian Paisley Junior says he will step down from his role as a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. But he will continue in his role as an assembly member for North Antrim. The move follows criticism over his links to developer Seymour Sweeney and allegations he lobbied on his behalf.

24 February 2008: The DUP says the devolution of policing and justice powers will not happen by May - the target date set in the St Andrew's Agreement. The party says there is not yet "adequate public confidence", and the party will not be rushed.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley is to stand down as First Minister in May

4 March 2008: The First Minister, Ian Paisley, announces he will stand down from the post in May. He also says he will resign as leader of the DUP- a party he has led for almost 40 years - but he will continue as MP and MLA for North Antrim.

11 March 2008: The Stormont committee which examines progress on devolution of policing and justice powers reported that agreement had failed to be reached on when it should happen. The Assembly and Executive Review Committee says the government's May target for transferring the powers cannot be met, and recommends that political parties engage in further discussion.

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