29/06/2006

Premiers meet with NI political parties

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, are meeting with Northern Ireland's political parties today in a bid to reaffirm the November 24 deadline on power-sharing.

The meeting is an attempt to encourage politicians to reach agreement on reinstating an all-party power-sharing assembly.

Earlier in the week it was said that the two prime ministers were expected to outline a rough timetable of progress for parties to meet the devolution deadline.

After the meeting, the DUP said that their meeting had been "relaxed" and no mention had been made of an alternative plan to run Northern Ireland.

DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson said that they had urged the leaders to instruct the assembly to meet and added that if negotiations are to begin in the autumn then it will be difficult to move onto the next stage unless the parties sit down together and debate and negotiate the issues.

Speaking before his meeting with the premiers, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams said that there was no point in Mr Blair and Mr Ahern just visiting the province, and added that they "have to come here as part of a continuum, as part of a process to bring about change."

SDLP leader Mark Durkan said: "The Taoiseach and the prime minister shouldn't have to be here today trying to make sense out of a lot of the nonsense that is coming from some of the parties.

"I hope the two premiers are clear in their message today that they want to see the parties here get on with it, because that is what the public want to see."

Northern Ireland politicians resumed their seats on the Assembly for the first time after it was suspended in October 2002 over allegations that a republican spy ring was in place.

This was later dismissed in court.

However, direct rule from London was restored and has been in place ever since.

The party's have met several times since it was reinstated in an attempt to elect a First and Deputy First Minister, each time failing to do so.

Since then, a Preparation for Government Committee has been formed, but progress has been slow.

The Assembly is expected to continue until August, with talks resuming in Autumn.

Earlier today, Mr Blair and Mr Ahern met a cross-community delegation of around 30 students from nine schools in Ballymena.

This was in response to the sectarian murder of 15-year-old schoolboy Michael McIlveen, who was beaten to death in the town in May.

(EF/SP)

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