James Brokenshire: 'I sense five main parties are still keen to keep talking and form an Executive'Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire writes exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph
Readers of the Belfast Telegraph, and many thousands of others across Northern Ireland, did not vote on 2 March for the situation we face today.
When the deadline to form an Executive passed on Monday, it left Northern Ireland without a devolved administration. This is hugely disappointing and I know there is widespread dismay across the country.
People sometimes say that politics doesn't matter. But today Northern Ireland faces significant challenges unless the parties can find a way forward quickly.
Voluntary groups and public services will suffer if things are not resolved and a budget established.
But discussions with the Northern Ireland parties and the Irish government, in line with the well-established three-stranded approach, did make some progress following the election - on advancing a budget, a Programme for Government and ways of improving transparency and accountability.
There were steps forward on implementing the Stormont House legacy bodies to provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of the troubles.
In addition, progress was made around how the parties might come together to represent Northern Ireland in our negotiations to leave the EU, which is so important in the context of Article 50 being triggered today.
So, what happens next?
Among the leaders of the five main parties and the Irish Government, I sense a strong willingness to continue talking to resolve outstanding issues and form an Executive.
So I will continue to work with renewed intensity and focus with the parties and the Irish Government, as appropriate, over the coming days.
If successful, legislation after the Easter recess could allow an Executive to be formed, avoiding a second Assembly election. There is little public appetite for another Assembly vote.
But in the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland, the UK Government ultimately provides for political stability and good governance.
Should the talks not succeed, the Government will have to consider all options.
As I told the House of Commons yesterday, as a minimum I would bring forward legislation after Easter to set a regional rate to enable councils to carry out their functions, and take steps to provide assurance around the budget.
In the small window now open, uppermost in my mind will be the overwhelming desire of business, industry groups and the wider community to see devo lved government returned to Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
Politicians here owe it to them to continue the work of the past two decades to build a stronger, peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland that works for everyone.