30 March 2006

Assembly members set for recall


Assembly members are to be recalled to Stormont

The deadline for efforts to restore the Northern Ireland Assembly has been set for 24 November, political sources have told the BBC.

The date emerged after Taoiseach Bertie Ahern held talks with Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party in Dublin.

Assembly members are to be called to Stormont on 15 May for a six-week period to try to form an executive.

An emergency bill is also expected to be put through Westminster to change some of the Stormont rules.

BBC Northern Ireland political editor Mark Devenport said the assembly would break for summer before being recalled in September for 12 weeks until the end of November.

He also said the political parties have been told the British and Irish governments are considering holding more talks at a stately home during the summer recess to deal with outstanding problems.

News of the deadline followed a series of talks between the Irish premier and some of Northern Ireland's political parties in Dublin on Thursday.

Political progress

Speaking before the meeting, Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said his party would tell the taoiseach that the DUP must not be allowed to delay political progress.

"The DUP are standing in splendid isolation," he said.

"Everybody else is demanding the restoration of the institutions."

Speaking after meeting with Mr Ahern, SDLP leader Mark Durkan said his party has some concerns about the two government's proposals for restoring devolution.

He said his party wanted to encourage the direction the two governments were travelling in, but was concerned about the detail which, he said, fell short of the Good Friday Agreement.

After his party's talks with Mr Ahern, Alliance leader David Ford said it was important that the two governments stayed engaged and did not leave it to Northern Ireland's politicians.

Bertie Ahern met with a number of NI's political parties

"The key issue is that the two governments build on issues like a shared future and stop just managing division," he said.

Earlier this month, Mr Ahern told the BBC a Northern Ireland Assembly may operate for some months without an executive.

Mr Ahern said the aim was to have a fully functioning assembly with an executive as envisaged under the Good Friday Agreement.

However, he said a deadlock over the formation of that executive should not stop the assembly from operating while there is work for it to do.

Meanwhile, sources have also told the BBC that next week's package of economic assistance for deprived loyalist areas should amount to about £30m.

Some sources within unionism have expressed disappointment at the sum, given the recent cuts in areas such as education in Belfast.

However, other loyalist sources said they see the initiative as a challenge and will work with whatever money is provided for areas such as skills and training, housing and urban regeneration.

Devolved government at Stormont was suspended in October 2002 following allegations of a republican spy ring at the Northern Ireland Office.

However, doubt was cast on that after a senior Sinn Fein official acquitted of involvement said he had been a British agent for 20 years and that there was no spy ring.

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