25 May 2006

Parties get devolution body call

BBC

NI Secretary Peter Hain has invited all the main parties to take their places on a committee to restore devolution.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have yet to state clearly whether they will join up. Mr Hain has said they have until next Tuesday to make their mind up.

It is thought the committee would have up to three members from the four main parties and two from Alliance.

Mr Hain also confirmed that Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern will hold talks with the parties before the summer break.

"I hope this committee will use the month of June productively to scope the work that needs to be done in preparation for government, before the prime minister, the taoiseach, (Irish foreign minister) Dermot Ahern and I return to Stormont for intensive talks with the parties before the summer break.

"At that meeting we need to set a clear timeline for addressing these issues," he said.

Mr Hain revealed he had asked the assembly's speaker Eileen Bell to convene the first meeting of the committee on 6 June to prepare for the negotiations involving the two prime ministers.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness said his party would judge the committee "on its ability to contribute to the restoration of the power-sharing executive".

"We are not interested in a talking shop," he added.

Negotiations

On Wednesday, Mr Hain said the committee should not be a negotiating body.

He was replying to DUP leader Ian Paisley's concerns that the committee would be used as a negotiating forum.

Mr Paisley had said his party would not take part in talks running alongside those promised between the parties and the British and Irish governments.

While the DUP has been seeking to limit the role which the committee plays, the SDLP said it would only enter it if it was clear "that it is the vehicle for restoration of the agreement's institutions, not a talking shop or meaningless sideshow".

The DUP continues to refuse to enter direct dialogue with Sinn Fein. However, in the old assembly, DUP members took part in committees alongside republicans.

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