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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 14:54 GMT
Ahern says next two weeks crucial
Nigel Dodds
Nigel Dodds suggested devolution was unlikely by next March
The next two weeks are critical for the political process in NI, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has said.

Mr Ahern said meetings were taking place every day to try to resolve the outstanding issues.

Meanwhile, DUP MP Nigel Dodds said he thought the timeframe for power-sharing envisaged in the St. Andrews Agreement was "unrealistic".

Mr Dodds was speaking after Belfast City Council defeated a proposal welcoming the St Andrews Agreement.

Both Sinn Fein and the DUP said it was premature as no deal was in place.

Mr Dodds told the BBC the timeframe, set down by the British and Irish governments following three days of talks in Scotland, was unlikely.

The SDLP's Alban Maginness began the debate by proposing that parties welcome the St Andrews Agreement and indications that Sinn Fein may sign up to policing while the DUP may sign up to power-sharing.


The motion failed to win backing from any other party, however, and was defeated by 27 votes to eight.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Maginness said he was disappointed.

"The opportunity was there for the parties to indicate, not to commit themselves, but to indicate their general support for the St Andrews Agreement and yet they failed to do that," he said.

"That sends a fairly negative vibe to the community at large. We are very positive as a political party. We believe this deal will be implemented, that this is the endgame."

Sinn Fein's Paul Maskey said the SDLP motion was premature while negotiations on the St Andrews Agreement continued.

"There is no substance at this stage, that we can see anyway, regarding this motion that the SDLP put forward," he said.

"When you have every single party voting against them, it proves that point."

The Alliance Party attempted to amend the motion. Naomi Long's amendment fell when it was defeated by 25 to 13 votes.

"My disappointment is with the original motion in that it seemed to be more about the SDLP finger-pointing at the DUP and at Sinn Fein rather than actually taking on board that all parties have a responsiblity for moving this process forward," she said.

"If any of us are being disingenuous by making it more difficult for people to move, that in itself is a very serious charge."

Nigel Dodds said the government's timescales in the agreement were arbitrary and unlikely to be met, including the March 26 date for devolution.


"In my view they are increasingly unrealistic because its clear that Sinn Fein aren't even prepared to make the first minimum move that needs to be done on policing and remember, we still have an IMC report that has to deal with the whole issue of terrorist structures, the Army Council...," he said.

"So what we will do is judge everything by the delivery and actions of the IRA and Sinn Fein and that will be the crucial issue, not any date set on the calendar by the government."

Ulster Unionist councillor Michael McGimpsey said he detected a "lot of nervousness in the DUP" with a "no camp" developing in the party.

"I have no doubt the DUP are going forward with this deal. Dr Paisley, after all, said a new day had dawned for Ireland," he said.

I have no doubt too, that Sinn Fein can deliver on their side of the bargain and I think we are about to see something that none of us actually anticipated happening, a DUP-Sinn Fein government through the Paisley-Adams deal."

The parties have until November 10 to give their verdicts on the draft St Andrew's Agreement.

The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, has promised 50bn to Northern Ireland over the next 10 years if power is devolved at Stormont.

Electoral endorsement

The British and Irish governments have set a date of 26 March 2007 for a new executive to be up and running.

The parties have until 10 November to respond to the plan.

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.

Martina Purdy reports from Stormont





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