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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 06:45 GMT
Impasse due to 'poor leadership'
The NI assembly has been suspended since October 2002
Northern Ireland's politicians are out of step with ordinary people who strongly support the restoration of the assembly, according to a report.

University of Edinburgh researchers examined devolution in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

They blamed the political logjam in Northern Ireland on a "failure of leadership".

However, they said structures set up by the 1998 Agreement encouraged sectarian politics rather than co-operation.

They also found support among DUP voters for power-sharing doubled between 1998 and 2003.

The findings follow an extensive 5m investigation into Devolution in the UK - The Impact on Politics, Economy and Society by the Economic and Social Research Council.

A total of 38 research projects were carried out, 17 of which dealt with the situation in Northern Ireland.

Professor Charlie Jeffrey, Professor of Politics from the University of Edinburgh, said devolution was popular among people from both communities in Northern Ireland.

"Exactly 50% of those questioned said an assembly should have most influence over the way the province is run," he said.

"And more than 50% plump for either a devolved parliament or assembly as their preferred constitutional option for Northern Ireland".

Direct rule

The research said the prospect of politicians to co-operate has become less likely amid the electoral polarisation which has seen the DUP and Sinn Fein become the biggest power blocks.

But it pointed out that a survey of DUP voters showed there are signs of movement towards a position favourable for a relaunch of devolution.

Between 1998 and 2003 support for cross-border bodies among those voters increased from 21% to 39%; support for power-sharing doubled from 35% to 71%; support for the assembly rose from 69% to 73% and belief that DUP party leaders should be willing to compromise increased from 30% to 38%.

The report concluded that while people in Northern Ireland are favourably disposed to devolution, their political leaders "may not be minded to take the steps that would make devolution work".

"In the present circumstances, in particular in the absence of a commitment to co-operation between Northern Ireland's two largest parties, DUP and Sinn Fein", that would appear to mean continued direct rule by Westminster".

The report found that two political shifts were needed to break the current devolution logjam: a revisiting of the structures set up by the Good Friday Agreement and a strong commitment to address the "simmering resentments" in the wider society.


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