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Peter Hain shifts devolution focus onto Paisley's DUP

Secretary of State Peter Hain today shifted the onus for restoring devolution in Northern Ireland onto Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionists as he praised Sinn Fein's advance towards an historic endorsement of policing.

Even though the party leadership exposed itself to potential splits by agreeing to press ahead with a special conference to consider overturning a policy of opposition stretching back generations, London and Dublin believe the shift holds the key to securing power-sharing and finally achieving a lasting political settlement in Ulster.

With the DUP insisting it wanted to see proof of Sinn Fein's unconditional support for Northern Ireland's police service before agreeing to sit in a coalition government, Gerry Adams faced warnings that some republicans appalled by the strategy will stand against Sinn Fein in Assembly elections due in March.

But Mr Hain heralded the decision, after tense discussions in Dublin yesterday, to hold an Ard Fheis on policing on January 28.

He said, "This is very good news for everyone who has the interests of Northern Ireland at heart. By committing the republican movement to support for the police in the clear and unequivocal terms that it has, Sinn Fein has played its part in breaking the deadlock that has paralysed political progress in Northern Ireland."

"The St Andrews Agreement made it clear that a lasting settlement must be based on the twin pillars of support for police and justice by everyone and power sharing on a fair and equitable basis by everyone."

"Of course there must be delivery on both of these commitments and there is absolutely no reason why we should not be on course for the restoration of the Assembly and Executive on 26 March and the devolution of policing and justice by May 2008," he said.

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