Enda Kenny and Theresa May united: Direct rule not an option if talks end in failure
Irish premier Enda Kenny has said he and Prime Minister Theresa May are in agreement that there will be no return to direct rule in Northern Ireland.
Addressing a business event in New York, Mr Kenny urged the parties at Stormont to focus on forming a new power-sharing Executive.
Next week politicians will enter the third and final week of negotiations to strike a deal before a statutory deadline.
If the deadline passes without an accord to bring together a new power-sharing Executive, the UK Government is legally obliged to call another election.
Some have predicted that, in those circumstances, London might move to pass emergency legislation to reintroduce direct rule.
Mr Kenny's remarks at Bloomberg's offices in New York suggested that Mrs May had ruled that option out.
"I hope that the elected Members of the Assembly will now focus through their parties on actually putting an Executive in place within the three weeks from the date of the election," he said.
"If that doesn't happen the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would then either have to hold further elections, or have direct rule again from Britain.
"I have spoken very clearly to the British Prime Minister and we are both agreed that there will be no return to direct rule from London.
"So I do hope that the Executive can be put in place, because this has implications for the peace process."
Mr Kenny also indicated he would not announce any retirement plans until political uncertainty in Northern Ireland was addressed and the EU's negotiating stance on Brexit was agreed.
The Taoiseach said those "immediate priorities" would take precedence over "everything else" on his return to Ireland today after a week-long trip to the United States.
Prior to leaving for his engagements in the US, the Taoiseach told members of his Fine Gael party he would address his future "effectively and conclusively" upon his return from the St Patrick's Day celebrations.
Mr Kenny, who has been Taoiseach since 2011, had been under pressure to set a timetable for his departure following criticism of his handling of a number of recent political controversies in Ireland.
After taking part in the St Patrick's Day parade in New York, he made clear that dealing with his own future would take a back seat to pressing concerns at Stormont and within the European Union.
"What I did say to my own party was I would deal with this matter effectively and conclusively, and that is my intention, but I think these are priorities that take precedence over everything else," he said.
"You can't have a situation where you have no leadership in Northern Ireland and where we have to define from a European Union point of view where Ireland would be, what the agreed terms of reference for the (Brexit) negotiations are."