The British government says it will reluctantly have to consider reintroducing direct rule in Northern Ireland if extended talks over the next three weeks to restore a power-sharing executive fail.
In a statement to parliament Tuesday, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire expressed regret that a legal deadline to form a new coalition at Stormont passed Monday without success.
Despite the failure to find a solution, he said talks will continue for a short time, in hope of avoiding the alternatives.
“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,” Brokenshire said.
“But in the absence of devolved government it is ultimately for the UK government to provide for political stability and good governance. We do not want to see a return to direct rule… but should the talks fail in their objectives the government will have to consider all options.”
The UK parliament rises for the Easter recess on Friday and resumes business on April 18.
The Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Féin administration collapsed in January when Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness – who died last week after a short illness – stepped down because of a row with the then First Minister Arlene Foster over a renewable energy policy.
A snap election on March 2 led to Sinn Féin, which wants a united Ireland, winning 27 seats, one fewer than the Democratic Unionist Party, the largest in the Executive.
Northern Ireland’s power-sharing arrangement means nationalists and unionists, who want to remain part of the UK, have to work together, with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister leading the executive.
But the two parties have failed to reach an agreement since the election – with each blaming the other for this.
The crisis in Northern Ireland comes as Scotland is seeking to break away from the UK through a second independence referendum.