THE optimism that followed the ground-breaking meeting between the IrisTaoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the British Prime Minister, and the leaders of thDemocratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein at St Andrews last weeevaporated when a historic first meeting between the DUP leader, the Revd IaPaisley, and the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, failed to take place.
The meeting scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled after Mr Paisley said thahe would not attend unless there was clarification on the pledges of office including supporting the Police Service of Northern Ireland - that the DUleader would take as First Minister, and that Martin McGuinness of Sinn Feiwould take as deputy First Minister.
Sinn Fein need to consult its membership, but it is felt that it will nohave time to do this before 24 November, the date for the signing.
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, urged the two sides to sort outheir differences: "The parties know that if we hit an immovable roadblock aany time, we will dissolve the Assembly. It is their choice," he said.
The feeling of confidence in both the Dublin and London governments has nototally evaporated, however, and it is considered that the issue whicprevented the meeting is surmountable.
Devolution is due to be fully restored on 26 March 2007, when - and if - thtwo parties can agree on recognition of the police, law and order, and otheissues of contentio