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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 May, 2005, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Blair says NI is still a priority
Tony Blair has visited Northern Ireland over 40 times as PM
Northern Ireland will remain a priority for him if he is re-elected, Tony Blair has said.

Embarking on the final leg of the election campaign, Mr Blair told the BBC the way forward was still obvious.

He said republicans must work by exclusively peaceful means and unionists must share power on that basis.

He said: "That's the deal there has been all these years and it is still the deal.

"It's the only deal that is ever going to be done."

Power-sharing under devolution has been suspended in Northern Ireland since October 2002.

Since then, republicans have faced intensifying demands for the winding down of the IRA.

Last month, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams called on the IRA to consider abandoning armed struggle in favour of Sinn Fein's political path.

I think given some more time and effort we can get this thing done
Tony Blair

Unionist and others have reacted sceptically to the timing of the call because it was made during the election campaign.

Mr Blair has visited Northern Ireland more than 40 times as prime minister.

He said on Tuesday: "I know obviously at the moment there is an impasse but if you compare Northern Ireland today with Northern Ireland eight years ago, it's a different place.

"That is not to say the problems aren't very frustrating but on the other hand I think given some more time and effort we can get this thing done.

"I am very sure of it. For the people of Northern Ireland it's essential that we do that.

"I don't underestimate the problems at all. But I think if you look back Northern Ireland has come a long way, the economy has come a long way.

"As a result the communities can at least talk about working together in a way that they couldn't before."

The Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has welcomed Mr Blair's comments.

But he refused to speculate about when the IRA would give an answer to his plea to ''fully embrace and accept" democratic means.

He said the election was an unprecedented opportunity to sort out the unresolved issues of the Good Friday Agreement and to get the peace process bedded down.

DUP reaction

Meanwhile the DUP leader, Ian Paisley said Mr Blair's remarks had let "the cat out of the bag" about his future intentions.

"The Prime Minister has now revealed himself that he is determined, come what may, to bring Sinn Fein/IRA into government.

"He has sold himself to have the representatives of IRA terrorists in the government of Northern Ireland on their terms," he said.

Mr Paisley used the comments to again urge people to support his party.

"As our forefathers were able to stop the madness of Downing Street in 1912, so we can stop the madness of Downing Street in 2005."






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