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Northern Ireland Secretary Brokenshire: We do not want to see a return to direct rule but 'window of opportunity is short'

Mr Brokenshire said 'all options under consideration' when asked about suspending MLAs salary

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has outlined his plan to save power-sharing at Stormont and said all options will be considered if talks to form an Executive fail after Easter.

Mr Brokenshire addressed the House of Commons on Tuesday after parties failed to form a new Executive before Monday's 4pm deadline.

The Secretary of State said the intensity of negotiations between the parties needed to increase in the days and weeks ahead as he said the "window of opportunity is short".

He said after the Westminster Easter recess, if there is no deal, he will seek legislation to set a regional rate for Northern Ireland.

Mr Brokenshire said he did not want to see a return to direct rule but if talks fail, he made clear the Government would consider it.

In the absence of devolved government, it is ultimately for the United Kingdom Government to provide for political stability and good governance. Secretary of State James Brokenshire

Without a ruling executive or agreed budget for the upcoming financial year, control of Stormont's finances will be handed to a senior civil servant on Wednesday.

Mr Brokenshire reiterated that the current "situation was not sustainable" and hospitals and schools will feel the brunt of the political breakdown.

Under current legislation, the Government is required to call another snap election if a deadline for forming an executive passes.

However, Mr Brokenshire said he would seek to amend that law to avoid a new election if a deal can be made in the time ahead.

He again stated that there was "no appetite" for an election with the Northern Ireland public having just gone to the polls last month and that the focus must be on "getting agreement".

He said: "If these talks are successful, it would be my intention quickly to bring forward legislation after the Easter recess to allow an executive to be formed, avoiding a second Assembly election, for which I detect little public appetite."

When asked if he would consider suspending MLAs salary if no Executive was formed after a reasonable period of time, Mr Brokenshire said "all options are under consideration".

Mr Brokenshire told the House of Commons that Prime Minister Theresa May was "fully engaged and remains so".

He said there is "no hands-off role by this Government in relation to Northern Ireland".

The Secretary of State said it was "vital" that devolved government was returned to Northern Ireland.

He added: "It is vital that devolved government, and all of the institutions under the successive agreements, is returned to Northern Ireland as soon as possible.

"And the Government's unrelenting focus is on achieving that objective. Northern Ireland needs strong devolved government.

"To deliver for teachers, doctors and nurses, business, industry and the wider community.

"To ensure that it plays a full role in the affairs of our United Kingdom, while retaining its strong relationship with Ireland.

"And to continue the work of the past two decades to build a stronger, peaceful and prosperous future for all.

"That needs to be the focus of everyone as we approach the crucial next few days and weeks."

Speaking on Monday afternoon, he said a "short window of opportunity" existed to strike a deal on the current political deadlock.

Outlining a time-frame for cross-party talks, he said: "On timing, there are a short few weeks in order to resolve matters.

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