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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 13:24 GMT
Powers to 'help restore assembly'
Stormont
David Hanson is hosting muti-party talks at Stormont
Legislation which could lend momentum to Northern Ireland's political process has been unveiled by the government.

Secretary of State Peter Hain introduced a bill in the Commons enabling him to transfer policing and justice powers to NI politicians.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein has said the prime minister must "bring the hammer down" on the assembly if the DUP does not sign up to power-sharing this year.

Martin McGuinness was speaking at Stormont where talks are taking place.

The party's chief negotiator said Tony Blair must act in the absence of progress.

"The British prime minister must make it clear, what he has indicated in the course of recent months that the situation in this building is untenable in relation to salaries and the existence of an assembly that is doing no work whatsoever," he said.

"Peter Hain has made it clear that there can be no election to an assembly that doesn't exist."

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said it was time for a more accountable talks process.

However, Political Development Minister David Hanson - who is hosting the multi-party talks at Stormont - said there was momentum in the process.

He also rejected the notion that the prime minister had delayed a visit because there was no prospect of a breakthrough at present.

The prime minister will return to Northern Ireland - he has put a lot of work in over the past two years, he has a clear objective to restore devolution in 2006
David Hanson
Political Development Minister

"The prime minister will return to Northern Ireland," he said.

"He has put a lot of work in over the past two years, he has a clear objective to restore devolution in 2006. That is something he is committed to."

Mr Hanson outlined the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill as a means of breaking the logjam and helping restore devolution before the year is out.

It paves the way for responsibility for policing and criminal justice being put in the hands of the locally elected politicians.

It gives the secretary of state the power to call a snap assembly election if there is a political agreement - rather than waiting until the currently designated time of spring 2007.

It also opens the way for redrafting of legislation in the light of any agreement, tightens up the laws on donations to political parties and increases the borrowing powers of any local administration.

Mr Hanson said the bill provided "a range of measures which I hope are going to help with the momentum of the political process".

"I think the bill provides the framework for the development of the peace process - foundations for movement," he said.

Devolved government at Stormont was suspended in 2003 following allegations of a republican spy ring at the Northern Ireland Office.


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