Christmas deal 'unlikely' - Ahern

A breakthrough in the political process is unlikely before Christmas, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has admitted.

Mr Ahern said he was not going to ask Irish Government officials involved in the process to work over Christmas as they "needed time for rest and reflection".

Instead he called for a renewal of efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement in the new year.

He also suggested the local parties needed some space to work out the way forward.

Mr Ahern was briefing journalists at a European summit in Brussels on Friday.

Proposals published jointly by the two governments earlier this month included a plan for the IRA to allow photographs to be taken of its weapons being put beyond use in the presence of independent witnesses.

The DUP argued that this was necessary to ensure that there was confidence in the act of decommissioning.

But Sinn Fein said the IRA would "not submit to a process of humiliation".

The political institutions in Northern Ireland have been suspended since October 2002 amid allegations of IRA intelligence gathering at the Northern Ireland Office.

The DUP and Sinn Fein became the largest unionist and nationalist parties after assembly elections in November 2003.

However, the two parties have not been able to reach a deal which would allow a power-sharing executive to be formed, and Northern Ireland continues to be governed by direct rule from Westminster.

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