Direct rule must be a possibility, says Foster
Arlene Foster has told the new Secretary of State that direct rule must be introduced if Sinn Fein "continues to block" the restoration of power-sharing.
Speaking after her first meeting with Karen Bradley at Stormont, the DUP leader said: "The clock is ticking in relation to the government of Northern Ireland. We haven't had a government now for over a year.
"I think she (Mrs Bradley) has heard directly today from people that they want to see government back here and if it's not going to be a devolved administration then it will have to be some sort of an administration direct from Westminster."
Mrs Foster claimed Sinn Fein Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill chose to speak to Mrs Bradley on the phone, rather than meeting her at Stormont as other party leaders did, due to ongoing criticism over MP Barry McElduff's Kingsmill video.
Mrs O'Neill dismissed the claim as nonsense and blamed clashing diary commitments.
She said: "The call today by the DUP leader for the introduction of Tory direct rule makes clear they have no interest in resolving the issues at the heart of the current crisis and no interest in re-entering power-sharing on the basis of equality and respect."
UUP leader Robin Swann told Mrs Bradley that restoring power-sharing was vital. "If there are parties that want to exclude themselves, then they need to get out of the way and stop preventing those of us who want to do the job from doing so," he said.
He urged the government to take action to stop Sinn Fein MPs from claiming expenses while not taking their seats.
Naomi Long said Mrs Bradley appeared "willing to take a fresh approach" to the talks. The Alliance leader said:"Things can be resolved if the will is there and the best way to test that is to appoint an independent facilitator, who can put a fair compromise on the table and see whether the parties will accept it," she said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said: "There is no time left to go through the same failed process between two parties and cross our fingers, hoping things will be different.
"Nowhere is the urgency more clear cut than in our hospitals and schools where frontline staff, patients, parents and pupils are enduring the brunt of the pain because of a failure of politics."