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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Governments may publish own plans
All the political parties are at the talks table

The British and Irish governments are set to publish their own proposals to break the deadlock over power-sharing and policing in Northern Ireland.

A Downing Street spokesman said they will do so if the Northern Ireland parties cannot reach agreement.

There are indications the governments are softening on the 24 November deadline for restoring devolution.

The second day of talks aimed at reaching an agreement are continuing at St Andrews in Scotland.

The British government spokesman said that if necessary "we will put forward our best guess as to what a way forward is - the parties then would have to decide their responses to that".

The spokesman also indicated that the 24 November deadline related to an agreement to restore devolution, rather than having the actual institutions up and running.

SDLP leader Mark Durkan warned the governments against publishing their own proposals.

"The governments shouldn't act in a way that creates a sense of failure," he said.

"We think what they need to do is to continue in pursuit of all the issues."

In the talks, the DUP and Sinn Fein seem to be involved in a standoff over the issue of policing and power-sharing.

The DUP wants Sinn Fein to sign up to policing before it agrees to share power with them, while Sinn Fein wants the DUP to move first.

DUP leader Ian Paisley said Sinn Fein should not be allowed to use policing as a bargaining chip, but should accept the rule of law like every other party.

Meanwhile, UUP leader Sir Reg Empey has accused the DUP of setting unrealistic demands

On Wednesday, Mr Paisley said the IRA must hand back any "ill-gotten gains" for Sinn Fein to enter government.

Asked about this, Sir Reg said: "We all seek perfection but we have to be realistic about what is achievable.

"You can raise the bar as far as you like, but it comes down to whether you want to solve the problem."

Graphic

He said it was clear the DUP and Sinn Fein wanted to resolve the issues but their caution about the other side could prevent them signing off on an agreement.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said he believed agreement could be reached in the talks, adding that Mr Paisley "has to decide if this is the time to do a deal".

"The issue of policing, which is obviously out there from his perspective - all of these matters and difficulties attached to that can be resolved," he said.

Mr Paisley said Sinn Fein had to "deliver" on support for policing.

"Those that want to serve in the government of a democracy must totally support the police," he said.

The two premiers have been concentrating on the topic of policing during Thursday's talks.

Other ministers are dealing with issues related to the devolution of justice, parades, equality, human rights and changes to the Stormont rules.

On Friday, it is believed that the talks may deal with questions concerning the past and victims.

The negotiations are due to end at noon on Friday.

The UK and Irish governments have given the parties until 24 November to reach a deal on power-sharing, otherwise the assembly may be put into cold storage.

Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams
The focus is on Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams

The talks in Scotland come a week after the body monitoring paramilitary activity said the IRA had changed radically and some of its most important structures had been dismantled.

Mr Blair said at that time the IRA's campaign was over and there was a "unique opportunity" to reach a final settlement.

The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended on 14 October 2002 amid allegations of a republican spy ring at Stormont.

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

Direct rule from London was restored in October 2002 and has been in place since.




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