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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Hain outlines scope of committee
Peter Hain
Peter Hain hopes to announce details of the committee this week
A planned cross-party committee on the restoration of devolution should not be a negotiating body, Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain has said.

Mr Hain was replying to DUP leader Ian Paisley's concerns that the committee would be used as a negotiating forum.

Mr Paisley had said his party would not take part in talks running alongside those promised between the parties and the British and Irish governments.

The two leaders are expected to visit Stormont next month for fresh talks.

On Tuesday, Peter Hain signalled that he hoped to announce the creation of the committee by the end of the week.

The negotiations will obviously take place with the governments, but I think there is an advantage for everybody to see what's on the table before those negotiations take place
Peter Hain
Northern Ireland Secretary

However, he told MPs he was giving further consideration to representations from all the parties on the idea.

Mr Hain said he did not favour the model for the committee advocated by the Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey.

In comments apparently intended to assauge the DUP's concerns, Mr Hain said he was not intending to give the cross-party committee "any power to negotiate, nor could I force that upon anybody".

"But I do think it would be helpful if there were a forum in which issues could be identified by all the parties," he said.

"The negotiations will obviously take place with the governments, but I think there is an advantage for everybody to see what's on the table before those negotiations take place," he said.

While the DUP is seeking to limit the role which any committee plays, the SDLP's senior negotiator, Sean Farren, said his party would only enter any restoration of devolution committee if it was clear "that it is the vehicle for restoration of the Agreement's institutions, not a talking shop or meaningless sideshow."

The DUP continues to refuse to enter direct dialogue with Sinn Fein. However, in the old assembly, DUP members took part in committees alongside republicans.

BBC Northern Ireland's political editor Mark Devenport said that if the creation of a devolution committee made dialogue easier, it "could prove significant".

However, he added that, if the committee could not be set up, it could call into question the purpose of the current "virtual assembly" at Stormont.




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