Devolution of most central government power to a Northern Ireland Assembly was a central plank of the Good Friday Agreement of April 1998.
Following the election, the UUP took the largest share of seats, with its leader David Trimble becoming Northern Ireland's first minister and the SDLP's Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister.
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.
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.
John De Chastelain heads Decommissioning Commission
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.
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.
The assembly has been suspended several times
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.
1 August 2001: At Weston Park, the British and Irish governments unveil a package of proposals 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Tony Blair insisted election would go ahead on 26 November
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.