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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 May, 2004, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Assembly 'could soon be restored'
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
Both leaders want to kickstart the political process
Devolved government in Northern Ireland could be restored by the end of the year, Irish premier Bertie Ahern has said.

He said he believed a roadmap had been found to progress the political talks.

Mr Ahern was speaking following a meeting with Tony Blair in Dublin on Sunday on restarting the Northern Ireland peace process.

The two leaders met a day after the summit there to mark EU expansion.

They said they were "cautiously optimistic" about restarting the Northern Ireland Assembly by the end of the year.

Mr Ahern said: "We are determined to achieve a basis for the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

There is a lot of intensive that is being done by our officials at the moment... I hope very much that before the summer we are able
Tony Blair
UK prime minister

"It is our assured sense that an outcome can be achieved that will allow restoration of these arrangements."

He added: "We're working on what we believe is a road map. We have the basis of it now."

Mr Blair said decommissioning by paramilitaries was not the only issue, and that the public had to be convinced all violence would cease.

The prime minister said the two governments could not achieve restoration alone and there was a period of hard work ahead.

He said: "We can only do so much. We need a real willingness from the parties to put themselves on the line and step up to the mark.

"If people can come together with good will I think we will find a way forward, certainly we will carry on struggling to do so.

He added: "There is a lot of intensive that is being done by our officials at the moment... I hope very much that before the summer we are able to go into an intensive negotiation."

Paramilitary activity

Both men have held a series of meetings with the political parties to try and restart the Northern Ireland assembly.

But there are fears at Stormont that the forthcoming European Parliament elections may make it difficult to restore devolution.

The pessimism was heightened by a recent report by the Independent Monitoring Commission (IMC) which highlighted the levels of paramilitary activity by both republican and loyalist groups.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
Mr Blair said the governments could not achieve restoration alone

The commission is a crucial element in the two governments' plans for restoring devolution, which was suspended in October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at Stormont.

The report recommended action against Sinn Fein and the Progressive Unionist Party in response to continuing IRA and loyalist violence.

As a result their assembly allowances were cut for one year by Northern Ireland Secretary Paul Murphy.

This move angered both parties and loyalists have complained their efforts to bring stability have been ignored by the commission.

The Irish premier currently holds the presidency of the EU and has set a June deadline for agreement on the constitution.

Mr Ahern told Saturday's summit he hoped agreement would be reached at the earliest possible opportunity.




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The BBC's Mark Simpson
"Unless there is some progress soon, the peace process could run into major difficulties"



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