The Irish and British governments have agreed to accommodate the new target date of 8 May for the restoration of power-sharing arrangements in Northern Ireland.

The leader of the British House of Commons, Jack Straw, has announced that emergency legislation will be introduced in Westminster tomorrow to give effect to the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The deal came after the first bilateral talks between Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams at Stormont this morning.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed this morning's developments by phone, and agreed to the six-week delay, in view of what is seen as an 'absolute commitment' to restore the institutions.

Mr Ahern said this morning saw 'unprecedented and very positive' developments in Northern Ireland, and that the agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP had the potential to transform the future of this island.

Mr Blair described this morning's meeting as a 'very important day for the people of Northern Ireland, but also for the history of these islands'.

He added that everything that had been done over the last ten years had been in preparation for 'this moment'.

Stormont meeting

The date was confirmed after the first face-to-face meeting between the Sinn Féin and the DUP in the dining room at Stormont's Parliament Buildings.

Mr Paisley said the meeting represented an important step on the road to the setting-up of a power-sharing executive in six weeks' time.

The Sinn Féin President said the agreement marked the beginning of a new era of politics in Ireland.

Sinn Féin and the DUP are to seek a meeting with British Chancellor Gordon Brown to agree an economic package and they have asked Mr Blair to delay the introduction of water charges.

Meanwhile, US Envoy for Northern Ireland Paula Dobriansky congratulated the Irish and British governments and the people of Northern Ireland on the agreement.

Ms Dobriansky said it ushered in 'a new era' and augured well for the successful establishment of a fully functioning Northern Ireland Assembly.