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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 08:29 GMT 09:29 UK
Parties to respond within a month
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
The prime ministers have set a March target date for devolution
Northern Ireland's political parties have less than a month to give their responses to the British and Irish governments draft devolution agreement.

The parties are back home after three days of talks in St Andrews aimed at restoring the political institutions.

The governments outlined their plans in the draft agreement and the parties now have until 10 of November to respond.

If the plans are accepted, the assembly could be up and running by 26 March next year.

The roadmap would see a first and deputy first minister nominated on 24 November.

At St Andrews, Prime Minister Tony Blair said there would have to be some form of electoral endorsement of the plan - either an election or a referendum.

TIMETABLE TO GOVERNMENT
  • 10 November - parties respond to proposals
  • 24 November - first and deputy first minister nominated
  • Electoral endorsement of plans
  • 14 March 2007 - nomination of executive
  • 26 March 2007 - executive up and running

  • He said the two key components of a plan were that all parties accept the police and courts and have a clear agreement on power-sharing.

    "So those are the two essential parts of it," Mr Blair said.

    "We've been through different parts of this process many times over the past few years but I think this is a sound basis to proceed."

    The government's plan also envisages the devolution of policing and justice powers in two years from the creation of the executive.

    HAVE YOUR SAY
    This is long overdue for the people of Ulster. I pray that devolution will finally take hold and that peace and goodwill can be restored between both the Catholic and Protestant communities. Good luck to you all.
    Peter Alsop, Calne, Wiltshire, England

    However, this would be subject to a cross-community vote in the assembly.

    A financial package is also included in the draft agreement.

    One of the proposals is a cap on domestic rates under the new capital value system if the governments' plans are accepted by the parties.

    READ THE AGREEMENT
    Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

    It also suggests the possibility of further rates relief for pensioners on lower incomes.

    Speaking after the governments revealed their plan, DUP leader Ian Paisley said Northern Ireland was at a crossroads and republicans had a choice and "delivery to make".

    "Delivering on the pivotal issue of policing and the rule of law starts now," Mr Paisley said.

    He said the DUP negotiators had dealt with a number of issues during the talks and that in the delivery of an overall package they "had retained the retention of academic selection" in the province's post-primary sector.

    Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said that the plans needed to be consulted on, but restoring the political institutions was an "enormous prize".

    "Common-sense political realism and the interest of all our people demand we achieve this," he said.

    Graphic

    Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said what had been agreed was the "Belfast Agreement for slow learners".

    "Sinn Fein will sign up to the PSNI being the only force of law and order and Ian Paisley, or a colleague, will share the joint office of first and deputy first minister with Martin McGuinness in a mandatory coalition," he said.

    SDLP leader Mark Durkan said welcome progress had been made towards restoring the power sharing institutions and pledged that his party would continue working towards this.

    "We believe that we can move from the politics of stand-off to lift-off," he said.

    Alliance Party leader David Ford said the outcome was a mix "of challenges and opportunities".

    "Despite all that remains to be done, there is now at least a sense of hope for a shared future," he said.

    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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    SEE ALSO
    Academic selection 'is secured'
    13 Oct 06 |  Northern Ireland



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