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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 September 2006, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
'Dire' warning over NI deadline
Stormont
The deadline for restoring devolution is 24 November
The failure of NI's political parties to reach a deal to restore devolution by 24 November will have "dire consequences", the government has said.

Political Development Minister David Hanson said the deadline was real and it was now a matter of urgency that the parties agree on a deal.

Talks aimed at moving the process forward will be held next month.

Mr Hanson warned that if the deadline was not met, it would be a "long time" before the assembly was restored.

Speaking on the BBC One's Politics Show, he said: "On 24 November if the failure of the executive to be formed happens, then what we have said will happen: allowances, office cost allowances, staffing allowances will be lost.

"And people need to know, as the secretary of state has said, that it will be a long time before the assembly, as we know it in its current form, is restored."

On Friday, Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern met to review attempts to restore devolution. They also finalised plans for talks in October at St Andrews in Scotland.

Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair
Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair met at Chequers

However, DUP leader Ian Paisley has made it clear to Mr Blair that he does not want to go there and does not believe the 24 November deadline will be met.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern has warned failure to secure a deal by the deadline would confine the parties to the margins of policy-making, something he described as a "kind of virtual politics".

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he would give his backing to the party signing up to policing when the British government "fulfils its promises" to them.

Mr Adams said many nationalists and republicans had huge difficulties with the PSNI because of the history of policing in Northern Ireland, but he said they deserved a policing service.

"The British government have made a number of commitments to us and it is quite public that they are going to do certain things," he said.

"When they do those certain things, I'm going to go to the Ard Comhairle (governing body) of our party to ask for a special Ard Fheis (meeting), so that we can consider whether we will support or what our attitude will be on the foot of a leadership resolution in relation to the PSNI."

'Virtual assembly'

Devolution was suspended in October 2002 over allegations of a republican spy ring.

The court case that followed collapsed and one of those charged, Denis Donaldson, later admitted working as a British agent.

Northern Ireland's parties have been back at Stormont since May, sitting in a so-called "virtual assembly" which can meet and debate - but not pass legislation.

The 108 MLAs have been warned that if the deadline is not met, their salaries and benefits will stop and the assembly will be put in mothballs.

What happens after that remains unclear, other than Dublin and London say they remain committed to implementing the rest of the Good Friday Agreement, with a step-change in north-south co-operation.


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