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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 18:37 GMT 19:37 UK
Devolution: SDLP
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.

Like the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP have lost their old pole position in the assembly, so they are no longer crucial to the formation of an executive.

That said, they fared better during last year's Westminster election than some commentators had predicted with the SDLP leader Mark Durkan holding John Hume's old Foyle seat and his deputy Alasdair McDonnell stealing in between two unionists to take South Belfast.

At St Andrews, the SDLP will be trying to limit any changes to the details of the Good Friday Agreement, seeking to increase north-south cooperation and looking for safeguards on the proposed extension of MI5's authority over intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland.

Mark Durkan
The SDLP wants more north south bodies

The party is particularly angry about proposed changes to the Stormont rules circulated in the form of draft legislation in the week before the talks.

Dating back to the 2004 Comprehensive Agreement, these changes would replace the old Assembly vote for a unionist and nationalist "joint ticket" for the first and deputy first ministers positions with a single vote for the executive as a whole.

The SDLP believe this was designed to spare the DUP's blushes at voting for a Sinn Fein deputy first minister.

But what annoyed the SDLP the most was that if they vote against the executive they will be excluded from taking their ministerial seats.

Some ask why the party would want to join an executive it didn't have enough confidence to vote for.

But the SDLP see it as an unfair rewriting of the rules by the DUP, which used to vote against but appoint ministers who then left empty chairs at executive meetings.

The SDLP wants more north-south bodies and more all-Ireland cooperation whether or not there is a deal.

It is anxious that, having made the leap to support the police, Sinn Fein might be allowed by the two governments to occupy a "halfway house" offering some level of practical cooperation with the police on the ground but still refusing to take places on the Policing Board.

Whilst Sinn Fein has highlighted the need for the devolution of policing and justice, the SDLP has played down how much difference this will make.

The SDLP was the first party to focus on the increased role for MI5 which will accompany the demise of the old police Special Branch.

The SDLP has been holding talks with the security service in an attempt to ensure that MI5 does not try to circumvent the accountability procedures set up by the police ombudsman and the policing board.

The party will press its concerns on this score with both prime ministers.

The SDLP is also likely to keep a close eye on the question of so called "on the runs". It scored a tactical hit on Sinn Fein over the controversial legislation enabling the return of IRA fugitives.

SDLP criticism that the inclusion of former security force members in the scheme made it a "colluders charter" contributed to Sinn Fein's decision to withdraw its support.

The SDLP argues that the IRA fugitives have to be dealt with but not by an effective amnesty for all sides.




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