"Short window of opportunity" remains to reach Stormont agreement

The Northern Ireland secretary says there is no appetite amongst the political parties for any alternative to power-sharing

"Short window of opportunity" remains to reach Stormont agreement

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire departs BBC Broadcasting House in London, 15-Jan-2017. Image: Jonathan Brady PA Wire/PA Images

The Northern Ireland Secretary has said there is no appetite for fresh assembly elections after today’s deadline for setting up a power-sharing executive passed without agreement.

Talks between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) broke down yesterday – with both sides blaming each other for the collapse.

Speaking this evening, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said it is “extremely disappointing” that the 4pm deadline was allowed to pass – but stopped short of calling a fresh round of elections as he was technically obliged to do.

Mr Brokenshire insisted there is still a "short window of opportunity" to try and resolve outstanding issues and reach a deal, adding that he will be addressing the British Parliament on the matter tomorrow.

“I think there are a few short weeks in which to resolve matters," said Mr Brokenshire.

“I believe that there remains an overwhelming desire among the political parties and the public here for strong and stable devolved government.

“I have spoken to the leaders of each of the main parties this afternoon and there is no appetite for any alternative."

He called on all parties to take advantage of the time provided - adding that "everyone owes it to the people of Northern Ireland to grasp that and provide the political leadership and stability that they want."

At the last round of elections Sinn Féin secured its best ever performance to cut the DUPs 10-seat advantage to one.

Following the collapse of talks on Sunday, the party’s leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill insisted the DUP’s approach to the negotiations must reflect the new political landscape brought about by the election result.

DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed there was "little to suggest" Sinn Féin want to secure agreement.

Extremely disappointed

Speaking this morning, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan said he was “extremely disappointed” the deadline had passed without agreement.

He said the Irish government is fully committed to ensuring that the principles and provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are fully respected.

"The absence of agreement on the establishment of an Executive is, for many reasons, deeply regrettable,” he said.

“However, it is particularly concerning that a vacuum in devolved government in Northern Ireland should now be occurring just as the island of Ireland faces up to the many serious challenges represented by the UK exit from the EU.”

He said with the prospect of Brexit looming, all parties must redouble efforts to re-establish power-sharing.

"The Irish Government will continue to advocate very strongly for Northern Ireland's interests to be protected,” he said. “However, there is no substitute for an Executive speaking with one voice on these critical issues.”

“I firmly believe that the Northern Ireland parties want to see the devolved institutions back up and running.

“The only route to that goal is through continued respectful dialogue that recognises the need for both honouring previous commitments and for honourable compromise.”

Civil service rule

Mr Brokenshire said that Stormont business will be taken over by civil servants over the coming weeks in the absence of an assembly.

If no breakthrough can be made within the extra time provided, he will be obliged to call a fresh round of elections – or reintroduce direct rule from London.

The last time direct rule was introduced, it took five years for the power-sharing executive to be reintroduced.