The prospect has been raised of a possible delay in the holding of Northern Ireland’s Assembly elections to give any new Stormont Executive some breathing space.

It is understood that this idea may be contained in emergency legislation to be put forward by the Northern Secretary, Peter Hain, in the House of Commons next week.

While the expectation is that fresh Assembly elections will be held next year, it is understood that Mr Hain wants to explore a different possibility.

The British government, supported by the Irish Government, has set 24 November as the deadline for having a full power-sharing administration in place.

Mr Hain is understood to favour giving any new power-sharing administration breathing space, perhaps until 2008, to establish its worth.

Mr Hain told the House of Commons yesterday that talks on recalling the Assembly on 15 May are to begin next week.

He said that it was for Northern Ireland's politicians to complete the process of devolution.

The last Assembly elections were held in November 2003.