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Only option after Northern Ireland election is devolution, says James Brokenshire

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has said he is only considering the restoration of devolution following March's Assembly election.

Mr Brokenshire was speaking in the House of Commons in the wake of his decision to call an election for March 2 in the wake of Martin McGuinness's resignation and his party's refusal to renominate a deputy First Minister.

The Assembly continues on to January 25 and will dissolve the following day. Mr Brokenshire said this was to allow urgent business to be conducted.

He urged Northern Ireland political parties to conduct the subsequent campaign with respect and in a way that does "not simply exacerbate tensions and division."

The Conservative minister said he was involved in ongoing talks with the parties and was in "close contact" with the Irish Government and the Prime Minister had been fully informed.

He said: "Regrettably, and despite all our collective efforts, it has not proved possible to find an agreed way forward in the time available.

"This election is about the future of Northern Ireland and its political institutions. Not just the Assembly but all of the arrangements that have been put in place to reflect relationships throughout these islands.

"That is why it will be vital for the campaign to be conducted respectfully and in ways that do not simply exacerbate tensions and division.

"Once the campaign is over we need to be in a position to re-establish strong and stable devolved government in Northern Ireland.

"And let me be very clear.

"I am not contemplating any outcome other than the re-establishment of strong and stable devolved government. For all the reasons I set out in my statement last week, devolution remains this Government’s strongly preferred option for Northern Ireland."

He added: "Northern Ireland has come so far and we cannot allow the gains that have been made to be derailed.

"So yes we have an election. But once this election is over we need to be in a position to continue building a Northern Ireland that works for everyone.

"That is the responsibility on all of us and we all need to rise to that challenge.

"While Assembly proceedings are continuing Sinn Fein MLAs are not taking their seats in the chamber, although their ministers will continue to work right up to the election."

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