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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Devolution: UK government
As the parties involved in talks on the future government of Northern Ireland take part in this week's key summit in Scotland, we take a look at the key issues and players.

The government set the 24 November deadline, partly under pressure from the Irish government and partly to focus minds before the prime minister's retirement.

Tony Blair is anxious to achieve a deal on devolution in his last year in office. The government said there is a great opportunity for a deal which must not be missed.

With decommissioning laid to rest, and the IRA reportedly transforming itself into a purely political organisation, the issues are narrowing.

The IMC's 12th report is published on Wednesday
The IMC's 12th report was published in October
The government has warmly welcomed a report from the Independent Monitoring Commission that the IRA is keeping its word on pursuing a peaceful path and has disbanded its bomb-making and weapons procurement departments.

The government is also committed to demilitarisation with troop levels due to fall to 5,000 by next August.

The Secretary of State, Peter Hain, wrote to the political parties ahead of talks suggesting two issues that need to be tackled at St Andrews.

These are policing and changes to the power-sharing institutions. Sinn Fein has not signed up to the policing board, and there is no agreement on the devolution of policing and justice in terms of a timescale and how it would be devolved.

There is still no agreement on how to bring greater accountability to the power-sharing executive, and improve collectivity.

The government has been spending around 2m a month keeping Stormont open and is hoping that its threat to cut salaries will concentrate minds on a deal. It is also aiming for a "deal to do a deal" by the deadline.

This would mean agreement in principle by the DUP to share power by a fixed date (next year) and an agreement by Sinn Fein to sign to policing (at a specially convened party conference).

The government is under pressure to deal with the issue of those "on the run" from the police.

The OTR issue as it is known failed to be settled last year when Sinn Fein withdrew support for the government's controversial bill claiming this was because it linked the OTR issue with an amnesty for British security force members.

The government is also under pressure as part of a deal to deliver a peace dividend financial package that would allow the new administration to demonstrate that devolution can bring benefits.

That would require the Treasury's agreement. The government is intending to impose water charges and higher rates bills which are deeply unpopular.

This is seen as a means of tempting the parties toward devolution. It has also said that its controversial plans for education reform dealing with comprehensive and grammar schools can be reversed by a devolved assembly.




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