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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
NI politicians return to Stormont
Members in the assembly chamber
Each member of the assembly had to sign a register
Northern Ireland's politicians have taken their seats in the Stormont assembly for the first time since October 2002.

There is no immediate prospect of a power-sharing executive being formed.

However, the government hopes recalling the politicians will help to pave the way towards a deal in the autumn, by its deadline of 24 November.

The 108 assembly members observed a minute's silence for Ballymena teenager Michael McIlveen who was murdered.

Earlier, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said November's deadline was "for real". "We won't blink first," he said.

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"If the other parties try and require us to blink first, they'll find themselves out of a job, without any pay, having to shut down their offices and going nowhere."

Devolved government was suspended over allegations of a republican spy ring. The court case that followed collapsed.

COUNTDOWN TO DEVOLUTION?
Assembly recalled: politicians given six weeks to form executive
If this fails, further 12 weeks after summer recess to form executive
If this is not achieved by 24 November deadline, assembly members' salaries and allowances stopped
Governments would then work on partnership arrangements to implement the Good Friday Agreement

On Monday, Eileen Bell of the cross-community Alliance Party took the speaker's chair.

She read out a letter from Mr Hain telling the politicians that the government wants them to get back to work.

The assembly members were invited to sign the register, in alphabetical order of their parties, designating themselves as unionist, nationalist or other.

Then the assembly adjourned, with many of the politicians heading off to a garden party at Mr Hain's Hillsborough Castle residence.

On Tuesday, the assembly meets again and is to debate the Northern Ireland economy.

Before the session was adjourned, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson asked for clarification on the position of Progressive Unionist leader David Ervine, who has joined the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group.

The speaker said she would have to take counsel on the issue and rule on it on Tuesday.

Speaking before entering the assembly, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said the question about moving forward was "a question for the DUP".

"Our focus will be about getting the executive formed as quickly as possible," he said.

"It's about making the Good Friday Agreement work and that's about making both governments very, very firmly on course."

Stormont
The assembly at Stormont has been suspended since 2002

DUP leader Ian Paisley said it was not impossible for his party to work with Sinn Fein, but that republicans would have to "obey the rules".

"All of us have to bow to the rules, but they haven't," he said.

"They have still kept some of their guns, that is quite evident. They have not only done that, they are still engaged in crime."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said his party was determined to see the full restoration of the assembly.

The Foyle MP said: "The assembly we meet in this morning is not even a shadow of its former self."

Sir Reg Empey, leader of Ulster Unionists, said his party's demand for a restoration of a devolution committee would prevent political drift.

"The people out there want solutions, they want some hope - they want to know the issues of primary concern to them are being addressed," he said.

George Mitchell, the former US senator who chaired the peace talks which led to the Good Friday Agreement, said he was confident a deal would be reached.

Business rules

Direct rule from London was restored in October 2002 and has been in place since.

Under the temporary rules, policy matters such as the economy can be debated, but laws cannot be made.

Unionists are in favour of discussing such issues, but Sinn Fein believes this would be pointless.

The nationalist SDLP will take part in such debates on a trial basis, to test whether the government will treat the assembly's votes seriously.

The vote on forming a power-sharing government will not take place until next week.

No-one expects that vote to go through, but under the new temporary rules of this assembly, it will still be possible for the politicians to debate other matters.

Many of the details of what this assembly might do remain unclear. However, the government insists that the 24 November deadline for a deal remains set in stone.

The last assembly poll was held on 26 November 2003, but Monday marks the first time the 108 members elected then will take their seats.

In that election, the DUP and Sinn Fein emerged as the largest parties within unionism and nationalism.




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