The Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams, has expressed concern that his party has yet to meet the DUP.

Speaking in Dublin after talks with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Mr Adams said the cancellation of a meeting last month represented a set-back, the significance of which should not be under-estimated.

The Sinn Féin leadership met the Taoiseach as the next deadline in Northern Ireland's political process draws closer without the two potential government partners having had a single face-to-face encounter.

Mr Adams told journalists that the Taoiseach shared that concern and would be raising the situation with the British government.

A DUP demand that Sinn Féin signs up to new policing arrangements well in advance of entering government remains a sticking point.

However, Mr Adams could give no indication of progress on this front either. He said he had no knowledge of any proposal for his party to give an interim pledge on the issue.

So, despite the offer of around €75 billion in investment from UK Chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday, there is still no certainty that the Northern Ireland parties will be able to nominate first and deputy first minister designates later this month.

Govt to study Brown proposals

The Government is to study Mr Brown's proposals for an economic package to underpin the Northern Ireland peace process before announcing its own plans.

Tánaiste Michael McDowell told the Dáil that Mr Brown's plan represented a 'very significant programme of expenditure over many years'.

Earlier, the Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, said the economic package unveiled for Northern Ireland is entirely conditional on the restoration of power-sharing at Stormont.

However, Mr Hain rejected calls for a lowering of the corporation tax rate to the same level as that in the Republic.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio, Mr Hain said the British government was prevented from lowering the tax rate under EU rules.