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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 13:23 GMT
Hain to get 'snap election' power
Stormont
Tony Blair is holding more talks over NI devolution
The Northern Ireland secretary is expected to be given powers to call a snap assembly election later this year.

The move would allow Peter Hain to call a poll as early as the autumn, rather than wait until the spring of 2007.

It is believed it will be included in new legislation to be unveiled on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tony Blair is holding separate talks in London with the DUP, SDLP and Ulster Unionists on Wednesday.

Mr Blair is to discuss the prospects for a return to devolution as efforts to end the political stalemate in NI continue.

It is thought that the government has decided to include in Thursday's bill a change in law that would give the secretary of state flexibility about the date of an assembly election.

Poll

At present it is fixed for the spring of 2007, but an early poll could be used to endorse a new deal.

Mr Hain, in the past, has said he is not interested in calling an election to another suspended assembly.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain is expected to be given the power to call an early election

The new bill is expected to make new provisions for the devolution of policing and justice power so that a speedy transition could be made once the assembly reaches agreement on the matter.

Wednesday's talks in Downing Street come amid speculation that Mr Blair is preparing another visit to Belfast, possibly within the next fortnight.

BBC Northern Ireland political correspondent Martina Purdy said Mr Blair had two objectives.

"These are to kick-start the assembly and to tie Sinn Fein into the Policing Board," she said.

"The DUP last met Mr Blair in January and presented him with the party's plan to reopen the assembly.

"It involved phased devolution, with direct rule ministers keeping the functions of the executive until there was sufficient confidence to build power-sharing.

"The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, has already rejected this out of hand, but Mr Blair will be hoping to find some common ground between the parties."


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