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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 October, 2003, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Analysis: A deal for devolution?

Brian Rowan
BBC NI security editor

Assembly elections have been called amid intense speculation that a deal has been reached to restore devolution to Northern Ireland.

The government has confirmed that voting will take place on 26 November and the main elements of the deal agreed by the key political players in the province are becoming clear.

Confirmation of the election date came early on Tuesday morning, and over a period of a few hours, the outcome of weeks of private negotiations unfolded.

A third act of decommissioning is thought to be imminent

The Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, made the first statement.

Later, the head of the decommissioning body, General John de Chastelain, gave a press conference - despite reports earlier on Monday evening that he had left Belfast.

What he had to say about the weapons the IRA puts beyond use will be crucial in terms of unionist confidence in this unfolding deal.

The IRA also spoke on Tuesday.

But this was not just a negotiation about what republicans had to deliver.

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair may travel to NI on Tuesday

Sources believed there would also be significant contributions from David Trimble's Ulster Unionist Party and the British and Irish Governments.

These contributions would cover a range of issues including the future of the political institutions, demilitarisation, suspects on-the-run and the crucial matter of the transfer of policing and justice powers to local politicians.

If all goes to plan, a statement from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, will be issued.

Not until all of the pieces are in place will we be able to judge this deal against what was on offer back in the spring.

And, if all of the speculation is right, we will not have much longer to wait.


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