Civil service in N Ireland 'could run out of money without imposed budget'
The Northern Ireland civil service could "run out of money" if a budget is not imposed from Westminster by the end of the month, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has said.
Mr Brokenshire insisted that the decision to impose a budget from Westminster did not amount to a return to direct rule, but was simply a mechanism to allow public officials to continue their work.
Despite the deadlock in talks between the parties, he said he believes the will and determination exist to restore the powersharing assembly executive at Stormont, after 10 months in limbo.
The stalemate over the restoration of devolved institutions meant there was no delegate from Northern Ireland at Friday's summit in Jersey of the British-Irish Council, a body established by the Good Friday Agreement, where Mr Brokenshire was representing the UK Government.
He told broadcaster RTE: "We are determined we will see the executive restored. The two parties have not found resolution at this stage, regrettably.
"I'm having to move forward with the introduction of a Budget Bill at Westminster that will simply codify what the Northern Ireland civil service have been doing, to enable them to continue with their work and most importantly not run out of money, which could be the case if we didn't take this step and didn't have this in position by the end of the month.
"This is not direct rule. This is not about the UK Government seeking to interpose its will, but rather a measure to ensure that there is a legal framework to enable the the civil service to carry on doing what they have been doing for the best part of this year."
He added: "I still think this is possible. The parties have made some progress.
"The gap still remains, but I believe - with will, with determination - we will reflect on what further steps need to be taken to get that positive outcome that would get them back in business, that would get Stormont up and running and get representation at the British-Irish Council from Northern Ireland."
Downing Street said Theresa May had phoned Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill to express concern about the lack of progress in talks.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister has spoken on the phone to the leadership of the DUP and Sinn Fein parties about the political situation in Northern Ireland.
"In separate phone calls, she expressed her concern that despite recent progress agreement had not yet been reached and she urged both parties to bridge the gaps on the outstanding issues that remained.
"On Northern Ireland's finances, the Prime Minister explained how the UK Government will reluctantly be taking forward legislation for a Budget Bill on Monday, to ensure that in the absence of an executive, public services in Northern Ireland have the resources they need to operate.
"The Prime Minister made clear this was absolutely not an indication of direct rule but it was necessary to enable the Northern Ireland Civil Service to allocate funds for key public services while talks between the parties continued.
"There was agreement on the importance of devolved government being returned to Northern Ireland for the benefit of all communities and the Prime Minister said that the UK Government would continue to work, alongside the Irish Government, with the parties in reaching a successful outcome."