The new Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, has insisted he would have a direct, hands-on role in trying to bring devolution back permanently to Northern Ireland and cement the peace process.

After his first walkabout around Belfast city centre since taking over the job from Paul Murphy, Mr Hain, who is also the Secretary of State for Wales, insisted the post had not been downgraded.

Earlier the departing UUP leader, David Trimble, warned Mr Hain that he would be a failure if the British and Irish governments continue to, as he put it, indulge and protect republicans.

Mr Trimble called on Mr Hain to put pressure on republicans to force the IRA to disband. He was speaking for the first time since his resignation as party leader following the Ulster Unionists' disastrous performance in the Westminster elections.

Mr Trimble said his party has a huge task in rebuilding itself following the general election. He lost his seat in Upper Bann and three other Ulster Unionist MPs also lost their seats.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Mr Trimble said the British government and republicans had not implemented the Good Friday Agreement.

Arriving in Belfast this morning, Mr Hain said the priority was to give an absolutely crystal clear signal that we could not continue to be bogged down in a stalemate.

Meanwhile, in a statement today, Ulster Unionist Party President Lord Rogan said: 'David Trimble is a man who has displayed enormous political and moral courage. His efforts at trying to secure a normal society here, while fraught with difficulty, have made a lasting impact on the political, economic and social fabric of Northern Ireland.'

Meanwhile, two new Ministers of State have been appointed to the Northern Ireland Office by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. 

They are former Conservative MP Shaun Woodward, who defected to the Labour Party four years ago and David Hanson, formerly Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister.