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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 March 2007, 17:38 GMT
Devolution deal is 'within reach'
Ian Paisley (l) and Gerry Adams (r)
Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams met with Tony Blair
The government believes a deal to restore devolution to Northern Ireland is within reach, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has said.

He was speaking after meeting Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. The DUP also held separate talks with Mr Blair.

Afterwards, DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said the government had a very clear picture of what his party needed for stable and lasting devolution.

He said his party were "condition led not calendar led".

"The secretary of state and the prime minister now have a very clear picture of what it is the Democratic Unionist Party needs, what the electorate in Northern Ireland expects and indeed what is required to have a stable and long-lasting devolved government in Northern Ireland," he added.

Northern Ireland's two main parties have until 26 March to agree to share power - or the London and Dublin governments will dissolve the Stormont Assembly.

Speaking outside Downing Street, Mr Adams said the government should not be found wanting whenever it came to providing a financial package for Northern Ireland.

"This government know this could be the real breakthrough," he said.

"Whatever about the fiscal amounts involved, there certainly is a realisation there that this could be it."

Mr Adams, who also spoke with Chancellor Gordon Brown during his meeting, added: "He (Mr Brown) certainly did give the impression that there is an historic opportunity.

"Given where we have all been in the recent past, we are now on the cusp of functioning, sustainable institutions coming into place and that he has a role to play in ensuring that is properly resourced."

Deadline

The meetings on Wednesday followed Northern Ireland questions and prime minister's question time in the Commons.

Before his meetings with the party leaders, Mr Blair told the Commons that news of another fall in Northern Ireland's unemployment figures was a sign of changing times.

"Over the past few years, there have been 100,000 extra jobs in Northern Ireland and a reduction of 30,000 in the number of unemployed," he said.

"What was fascinating about the election was that the bread and butter issues - water charges, health, education, the local economy - were prominent on the doorstep."

The newly elected Northern Ireland Assembly met for the first time on Tuesday at Stormont.

The 108 members were asked to sign the register and select a voting designation, either unionist, nationalist or other.

The parties have until 26 March to agree a power-sharing executive or the British and Irish governments say they will shut the assembly and stop the pay of its members.

If a power-sharing executive is formed it will have four DUP ministers, three Sinn Fein, two UUP and one SDLP.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended since October 2002, amid allegations of an IRA spy ring at Stormont. A subsequent court case collapsed. Direct rule has been in place since that date.


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