UK: Northern Ireland must act soon to save self-government

Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire told Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists they had "a small window of opportunity" to break the deadlock.

The deadline for agreement between the two biggest parties the DUP and Sinn Féin passed at 4pm today.

"From all my extensive engagement across Northern Ireland with business, civil society and members of the public, I am in no doubt inclusive devolved government is what the overwhelming majority of the people want to see", he said.

From tomorrow Northern Ireland's Department for Finance will take responsibility for setting the Stormont budget, which means it will gain immediate control of a sum of money equivalent to 75% of this year's funds.

He has three options: set a new talks deadline, call a fresh election, or suspend devolution and return administration of the province fully to the United Kingdom government.

However, if talks failed he said that at a minimum he would bring forward legislation to "set a regional rate" to allow local councils in Northern Ireland to carry out their functions.

Brokenshire said there was no appetite for a return to direct rule from London, a move which would require the law to be changed, but which some feel could prove unavoidable if repeated elections fail to bring the parties together.

The talks process that followed this month's election sputtered to a halt on Sunday - with the two parties blaming each other for the impasse.

"Because it is that absolute intent we have as a Government is to do all that we can to get devolved Government back up on its feet again and we will do our utmost to achieve that - which can be done".

Meanwhile, Upper Bann Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie MC, has called on Sinn Fein to "practice what they preach".

"I am encouraged that there remains a strong willingness to continue engaging in dialogue with a view to resolving outstanding issues and forming an Executive and that must absolutely remain a priority".

Sinn Fein presented a long list of demands as conditions to re-enter government, including funding services for Irish language speakers, gay rights and inquiries into deaths during the decades of sectarian violence.

Mr Brokenshire, who is faced with the choice of calling a fresh election, making further efforts to seek a compromise or imposing direct rule from Westminster, played down the chances of a new vote.

  • Leroy Wright