Taoiseach Bertie and Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be assessing the prospects for restoring devolution when they meet Northern Ireland parties later this week, Northern Secretary Paul Murphy confirmed today.
As the British government prepared to present a draft document to the parties on the issues raised in the review of the Good Friday Agreement at Stormont, Mr Murphy described this Friday’s talks at Lancaster House as a stock-taking exercise.
“I do not know if a deal is likely to be done this week but obviously both governments would like it to be done,” he said.
“But we have to be realistic and it may take longer than that.
“We have to take stock and the prime ministers will be taking stock when they meet each of the parties.”
Devolution has been suspended in Northern Ireland since October 2002, when the power-sharing executive threatened to collapse amid unionist concerns about IRA activity.
Republicans have faced constant demands since then to wind down the IRA but they have accused the Irish and British governments of failing to honour pledges in the Good Friday Agreement and in subsequent talks which could boost the political process.
Two attempts to restore devolution floundered last year over Sinn Féin and the IRA’s failure to convince David Trimble’s Ulster Unionists of their good intentions towards the peace process.
Since then, Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionists have overtaken Mr Trimble’s party as the dominant unionist voice in Northern Ireland and they have insisted the IRA must be wound down if they are to share power with Sinn Féin.
As Mr Ahern and Mr Blair prepare for this week’s meeting, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has insisted his party is anxious to strike a deal as soon as possible to restore the Stormont Assembly and the power-sharing executive.