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Blair and Ahern in push to restore N.Ireland govt

Written by: Staff

DUBLIN, Apr 6 (Reuters) The British and Irish prime ministers are due to unveil last-ditch plans later today for resurrecting Northern Ireland's regional government, suspended in 2002 amid bitter political recriminations.

However, the drive by Tony Blair and Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern to coax the British-ruled province's warring politicians into sharing power by the end of the year has been overshadowed by this week's murder of Denis Donaldson, the Sinn Fein official revealed as a British spy in December.

The body of Donaldson, a convicted IRA bomber, was discovered on Tuesday in a remote hideout in rugged northwestern Ireland. He had been blasted with a shotgun.

Donaldson's death and speculation about the involvement of Irish republicans has sparked renewed finger-pointing by politicians on both sides of the province's divide between majority Protestants committed to links with Britain and Roman Catholic nationalists who favour a united Ireland.

Both Blair and Ahern have insisted that while Donaldson's murder might make their task more difficult, it would not derail efforts to restore the Belfast assembly, set up under 1998's Good Friday peace agreement to end 30 years of violence.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern today said the governments were preparing for a ''final push'' to break the political stalemate.

''We are in effect calling the assembly on the 15th of May, giving the parties an opportunity to form an executive over a six-week period,'' he told Irish state broadcaster RTE.

''But if they don't -- and I think most people would believe they may not, but they might surprise us -- but if they don't the governments are prepared to allow the assembly to continue for a limited period up to the 24th of November.'' If that strategy failed, he said, the two governments would have to look at possibilities for a ''plan B''.

It was crucial that restoration of the assembly took place this year because the Irish government would be occupied with a general election in the first half of 2007 and in the UK the political situation was ''quite fraught'', he said, referring to a possible transfer of power if Blair steps down.

Blair and Ahern are expected to outline their plans at a joint news conference in County Armagh, close to the Irish border with Northern Ireland, at 1000 GMT.


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