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Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2006, 13:28 GMT
Parties discuss future assembly
Stormont
Elections to a new assembly are planned for March
Senior Sinn Fein and DUP politicians have taken part in a key meeting of a new Stormont committee aimed at drawing up a programme for devolved government.

The DUP's deputy leader Peter Robinson led his party's delegation, including Edwin Poots and Ian Paisley Jnr. DUP leader Ian Paisley was not present.

The other parties were represented at leadership level.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was joined at Monday's meeting by Martin McGuinness and Michelle Gildernew.

Sir Reg Empey and David McNarry represented the Ulster Unionists and Mark Durkan and Margaret Ritchie represented the SDLP.

The meeting of the "Programme for Government Committee" took place ahead of Friday's first meeting of the so-called transitional assembly.

The Northern Ireland Office wanted an official photograph to record the event but this was rejected.

No television cameras were present to record a meeting which dealt with economic matters.

Policing

It had been due to take place in October, but it was postponed because of a row over when the parties should pledge support for the police.

The politicians discussed the shape of any future economic package which might accompany the restoration of devolution.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Adams said it was "a good start" and a "business-like meeting" but there was a lot of work to be done.

"There was a large degree of agreement on many issues," he said.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said it could be "several political lifetimes" before there was the community confidence to have policing and justice powers devolved to Northern Ireland because of "the rate Sinn Fein are going".

He said it was essential Sinn Fein recognise the need to build confidence in the community.

"It dosen't exist. I can't see it in the foreseeable future existing and like Nigel (Dodds) - indeed I probably said before Nigel - it wouldn't be in my lifetime never mind in my political lifetime."

Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey said there was agreement on key issues like water charges and education.

The line up - three DUP and Sinn Fein politicians and two representatives from the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists - appears to quite deliberately look like a shadow power-sharing executive.

The decision not to invite the Alliance Party to the talks has been criticised by party leader David Ford who said the government was prejudging the outcome of next spring's election and the shape of any future executive.

Sir Reg was also critical of the government because his party was only given one working day's notice of the talks.

BBC political editor Mark Devenport said: "Despite the problems, the government remains hopeful that the committee can pave the way towards 26 March, the only devolution deadline which now appears to count."

Last week, the government announced that elections to a new Northern Ireland Assembly would be held on 7 March next year.

A transitional assembly, which comes into effect this Friday, has been established until then.




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