The British Secretary for Northern Ireland has raised the prospect of a fresh round of Stormont elections.
Karen Bradley was speaking in Westminster following last week’s collapse of talks aimed at restoring power-sharing.
The North has been without a devolved Government for 13 months since the collapse of the Executive over the DUP’s handling of a botched renewable energy scheme.
Ms Bradley said the British Government’s support for the Good Friday Agreement remains steadfast - and insisted the restoration of the Stormont Executive is in the best interests of everyone in the North.
“There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has taken huge strides forward in the past 20 years, yet any commemorations this year will look decidedly hollow if Northern Ireland still has no functioning Government of its own,” she said.
“Everyone needs to continue striving to see devolved Government restored.
“I cannot reiterate too strongly that devolved government is in the best interests of all the people of Northern Ireland because it ensures their interests and concerns are fairly and equitably represented.”
I strongly welcome Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley’s steadfast support for the Good Friday Agreement in the Commons today:https://t.co/VK49swD1tI
— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) February 20, 2018
She said the British Government would not not shirk its responsibilities to provide stability for the people of Northern Ireland and pledged to “govern with rigorous impartiality” should direct rule be re-introduced.
“But we will only do that once we are sure that all other viable options designed to restore devolved government have been properly considered,” she said.
“Including my statutory obligation to call an Assembly election.”
Good Friday Agreement 1998 was supported by referendum in Northern Ireland. The result was 71.1% in favour. A simultaneous referendum held in the Rep of Ireland produced an even larger majority (94.4%) in favour - today Irish and British Govts remain absolutely committed to GFA
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) February 20, 2018
She said both the DUP and Sinn Féin “participated in discussions seriously and in good faith” and noted that they had reached a “balanced and fair” agreement on the main issues of contention before the talks broke down.
“Unfortunately, however, by last Wednesday it had become clear that the current phase of talks had reached a conclusion, without such an agreement being finalised and endorsed by both parties,” she said.
Sinn Féin has consistently said that there was a deal in place before the DUP walked away – a claim that was rejected by DUP leader Arlene Foster who insisted that, “serious and significant gaps remain between ourselves and Sinn Féin especially on the issue of the Irish language."
Ms Bradley rejected calls for her to release documents revealing exactly what happened during the talks.
She said Stormont negotiations were between the parties - so any correspondence belongs to them.
Ms Bradley said despite Britain’s commitment to devolution, “Northern Ireland cannot simply remain in a state of limbo.”
She pledged to impose a budget from Westminster to ensure the continued delivery of public services in the North until the impasse can be resolved.
She also pledged to consider the issue of the issue of representative salaries, acknowledging public anger over the fact MLAs are being paid while the Assembly is not meeting.