US calls for a quick return of NI devolved government
The US government has urged a swift resumption of powersharing in Northern Ireland.
Restored democratic institutions and engaged citizens can take the country forward, the State Department said, following the calling of fresh elections.
There are fears a divisive campaign will make a rapprochement even less likely, raising the spectre of a return to direct rule if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks on the other side of the March 2 poll.
The US statement said: "The United States remains committed to supporting a more peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland. To this end, we urge all political parties to focus on quickly finding a way forward to the resumption of stable devolved governance. We also encourage civil society leaders to continue their vital work building a better, shared future.
"Restored devolved democratic institutions and an engaged, constructive citizenry can best take Northern Ireland forward."
With talks on the cards after the Assembly election, the US is yet to announce a replacement for former senator Gary Hart, who stood down as special envoy to Northern Ireland in December. A successor is unlikely to be announced before Donald Trump's inauguration on January 20.
Meanwhile, the DUP yesterday accused Sinn Fein of triggering the election to force more concessions from Westminster. As Sinn Fein demanded a stronger commitment to power-sharing from the DUP, its deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted: "As we have in the past, we will not be giving in to Sinn Fein's wish list of demands."
His attack came just hours after the British and Irish governments asked for the election to be held in an "atmosphere of calm". Secretary of State James Brokenshire told MPs: "Once the campaign is over we need to be in a position to re-establish strong and stable devolved government."
After the poll, there will be a week for the Assembly to try to appoint a First Minister and deputy First Minister, followed by a further two weeks to allow the selection of a full Executive under the d'Hondt mechanism.
After that - if Sinn Fein insists it will not return to the "status quo" - Mr Brokenshire must decide whether to suspend the Assembly and re-introduce direct rule or call another election.
"It has not always been easy, with more than a few bumps in the road but, with strong leadership, issues that might once have brought the institutions down have been resolved through dialogue," Mr Brokenshire added.
Mr Dodds, however, insisted the election was not about the scandal over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) and its projected loss of up to £490m over the next 20 years.
"What it's about is Sinn Fein seeking opportune political advantage, seeking to overturn the result of the election held just a few months ago and seeking to gain a list of concessions from the Government on legacy issues such as re-writing the past and putting more soldiers and policemen in the dock and other issues and more concessions and other concessions from the DUP," he said.
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, however, said there needed to be a "sea change of attitudes" from not just the DUP but also the London and Dublin governments. He insisted Sinn Fein is committed to the restoration of the Assembly and Executive.
Mr Adams said that while the DUP's handling of the RHI had been the "tipping point", its attitude to power-sharing and the outcome of the Brexit vote had also brought about the collapse of the Executive and Assembly.
The government in Dublin had consigned themselves to the role of spectators while the British had refused to honour commitments on a Bill of Rights, an Irish language act and dealing with the legacy from the Troubles, Mr Adams said.
Ulster Unionist South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan said: "It is abundantly clear that the DUP and Sinn Fein are incapable of governing together."
TUV leader Jim Allister argued: "Sinn Fein has never wanted or intended Northern Ireland to work. Now, they are ready to use the leverage of pulling the house down to advance their insatiable republican agenda."