Belfast Telegraph

May and Kenny united in resolve to head off election in Northern Ireland and get parties talking

By Philip Ryan

Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night vowed to work closely to resolve the Stormont crisis before an election is due to be called next week.

Mrs May and Mr Kenny spoke by telephone yesterday evening as both the UK and the Republic increased efforts to prevent an Assembly election in Northern Ireland.

During the 15-minute conversation the two leaders agreed the current situation was "very serious" and every effort should be made to reach an agreement between the parties over the ongoing 'cash for ash' scandal.

It was agreed that the two Governments would work closely throughout the crisis and there was special emphasis placed on the role to be played by Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan.

Ms May is due to make a State visit to the Republic in the coming weeks when she will hold her first formal talks with the Taoiseach on Brexit.

The Prime Minister is expected to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, which will begin the official process of Britain leaving the EU.

However, there is growing frustration in Dublin over Britain's Brexit strategy, which has been kept as a closely guarded secret.

Irish EU Commissioner Phil Hogan attacked Britain's behaviour during the process on Monday saying: "Brexit is a mess and it is only getting messier."

Senior Irish ministers are also growing impatient with the lack of information coming from the UK as the countdown to formal talks begins.

Mrs May was forced to go on a media offensive last weekend after concerns were raised in the UK about her Brexit strategy.

The Prime Minister hinted that the UK would leave the EU single market but committed to outlining more significant plans in the coming weeks.

Irish officials last night said the Taoiseach and Ms May did discuss Brexit but not in great detail due to the situation in Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile, Mr Flanagan briefed his Cabinet colleagues extensively on concerns over Stormont yesterday. It is understood the minister reiterated that the Republic of Ireland was a co-guarantor to the agreements underpinning the Assembly and should not choose sides in the current debacle.

Mr Flanagan is believed to have spoken directly with Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness about his decision to resign as Deputy First Minister.

Senior Dublin sources described direct rule as a "bogeyman" being used by unionists.

But one source in Dublin said: "A return to direct rule is nearly not even an option at this stage and London would be very resistant to it."

The Government believes the frameworks laid out under the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements make direct rule from Westminster all but "unworkable".

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