Powersharing talks remain a priority, insists UK Government amid scepticism
The UK Government has said talks to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland remain a priority, despite scepticism from a senior Democratic Unionist that they are a "waste of time".
The Northern Ireland Office (NIO) restated its determination to secure a local agreement in response to a call from MP Sammy Wilson to end the "sham" process and introduce direct rule from Westminster.
A bitter political impasse between Stormont's two largest parties - Sinn Fein and the DUP - has left the region without a first and deputy first minister since January and a functioning devolved executive since March.
Protracted negotiations to restore the administration have failed, with a number of Government deadlines having fallen by the wayside.
The process was parked for the summer. The talks involving the five Stormont parties and the UK and Irish governments are due to resume at the start of September.
Sinn Fein's demand for legislation to protect Irish language speakers is the crucial sticking point, though the parties are also at odds on other issues, such as the DUP's ongoing opposition to introducing same-sex marriage.
East Antrim MP Mr Wilson questioned the worth of resuming the process, claiming Sinn Fein was making unrealistic demands.
He urged Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire to move to introduce direct rule from Westminster, so political direction can be exerted on the region's rudderless public services.
Mr Wilson told the News Letter: "The demands and red lines of Sinn Fein are so unrealistic that there is not going to be an agreement.
"Brokenshire is not naive but I wonder why he continues to be optimistic that a deal can be done. He needs to get real and understand Sinn Fein's game.
"While direct rule is not my preference, I believe the people of Northern Ireland will be better served by it at this time."
In response to the comments, an NIO spokesman said: "Northern Ireland needs devolved government, not direct rule, to ensure that effective public services are delivered to all.
"Responsibility remains with the parties to resolve their differences and to get back into an executive to achieve this. That is what is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and why it is the priority of the Secretary of State to restart political talks to achieve this outcome."
Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey questioned whether the DUP was serious about reaching an agreement.
"We in Sinn Fein believe a resolution to the current political breakdown is possible if the will is there from all parties, but the DUP leadership needs to clarify whether they are serious about an agreement or not, given this latest rant from Sammy Wilson," he said.
"No resolution will not involve a return to direct rule.
"It has failed in the past and will fail again because the only democratic vehicle consistent with the Good Friday Agreement is equal partnership government based on parity of esteem and respect, which commands public confidence and can deliver public services, jobs and bring about a step change in a new political era.
"That's what Sinn Fein are about delivering. And the time is now."