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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 December, 2003, 18:49 GMT
Haass holds NI talks
Richard Haass is holding talks with political leaders

President Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland is holding talks with political leaders in the province as part of efforts to try to break the current deadlock.

Ambassador Richard Haass is meeting the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and is to hold talks with the SDLP later on Wednesday.

His 12th visit to the province, which is expected to be his last in his current role, comes days after the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

The political institutions were suspended more than a year ago and the parties went into last week's assembly election against the background of a deadlocked process.

The Democratic Unionist Party overtook the Ulster Unionists to become the biggest party, taking 30 seats. Sinn Fein secured 24 seats.

Mr Haass said he was not concerned about the election result.

"I'm not big on pessimism. I don't feel I'm coming here amidst crisis," he told the BBC.

Earlier on Wednesday, the DUP rejected suggestions by the SDLP MP Seamus Mallon that they had been holding discussions with the Irish Government for some time.

Mr Mallon used parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons to make the claim.

During Northern Ireland Questions, Mr Mallon put it to the secretary of state that he had information about negotiations between the party and the Irish Government.

Mr Murphy did not directly address the question, while the DUP said the allegations were nonsense.

Ian Paisley
Ian Paisley made significant gains in the election
The party has threatened legal proceedings against a Dublin-based Sunday newspaper over the issue.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds said his party's position had been consistent.

"We will talk to the government of the Republic of Ireland on matters of mutual concern," he said.

"We are not in the business of saying one thing in public and behaving differently in private."

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin also denied any political discussions had taken place with the DUP.

The spokesman said the party's members had met some of its officials on social occasions but that did not amount to negotiations.

Meanwhile, an Ulster Unionist has accused the SDLP of using the Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, to score political points during the recent assembly election campaign.

At a meeting of the Policing Board on Wednesday, UUP member Sam Foster suggested to Mr Orde that the party had used him as a political pawn.

He said the SDLP had implied it had helped to have the chief constable appointed and had succeeded in having special branch removed.

Mr Orde said it was his job to deliver effective policing and up to the SDLP to justify their election campaign.

BBC NI's political correspondent Gareth Gordon:
"In a statement Mr Dodds said that what he called wild accusations about secret talks were completely false"

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