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No snap election: London will 'consider all options' for the North after Easter

Northern Secretary James Brokenshire has effectively removed the prospect of a second snap election.

Ulster Assembly election 2017 Gerry Adams by a portrait of the former DUP leader Ian Paisley in Stormont yesterday. Source: Niall Carson

NORTHERN IRELAND SECRETARY James Brokenshire has said London will “consider all options” after Easter if talks to reestablish power-sharing fail.

He did “not want to see a return to direct rule,” Brokenshire told MPs in Westminster. In the absence of a deal, he said it was up to the government to provide political stability in the North.

Brokenshire said yesterday that he was “extremely disappointed” that the two largest parties – the DUP and Sinn Féin – could not reach agreement.

He said that Section 59 of the Northern Ireland Act would apply if there is no formal agreement in place by tomorrow.

The move would see senior civil servants in Westminster take charge of the North’s chequebook for the first time since 2007.

According to BBC Northern Ireland, civil service boss Malcolm McKibbin sent a memo to staff promising to try to maintain a “business as usual” approach during the period.

Civil servants in the North would use the limited powers open to them to keep funds flowing in order to carry out the essential work of delivering public services, he said. Those powers, he added, were no substitute for a regular budget agreed by ministers.

The talks process that followed this month’s election sputtered to a halt on Sunday – with the two parties blaming each other for the impasse.

Gerry Adams took aim at the unionists for failing to move on a range of issues.

“The DUP’s approach thus far has been to engage in a minimalist way on all of the key issues, including legacy issues; an Irish Language Act; a Bill of Rights; and marriage equality,” Adams said.

DUP leader Arlene Foster meanwhile insisted that there was “little to suggest” that Sinn Féin wanted to secure an agreement.

Throughout the course of Saturday Sinn Fein behaved as if they were the only participants whose mandate mattered. This cannot and will not be the basis for a successful outcome.

Sinn Féin finished with 27 seats in the wake of this month’s election, which arose after the party called time on the last power-sharing arrangement due to Foster’s stance on the ‘cash for ash’ controversy.

The DUP remain the largest party – but only just –  with 28 seats. The SDLP have 12 seats, the UUP 10 and the Alliance eight. The remaining five seats are divided between the Greens (2), smaller parties and independents.

Some commentators in the North have speculated that both the DUP and Sinn Féin may want another election: the UUP – the main rival unionist party – is currently without a leader, and Sinn Féin may be hoping for an increase in support, in the wake of the death of Martin McGuinness and in-depth coverage and analysis of his role in the peace process.

456 James Brokenshire Source: Sky News/Screengrab

Brokenshire’s latest comments remove the prospect of an immediate second election (it would be the third such ballot for the North in the space of 12 months).

He gave a deadline for talks of the end of Westminster’s Easter recess – 18 April. If there’s still no prospect of a First and Deputy First Minister being nominated then, he said he would bring in legislation that would effectively ramp-up direct rule from London.

Read: The DUP didn’t show up, Sinn Féin say they didn’t walk out. What happens now? >

Read: ‘Answers have not been satisfactory’: Pressure mounts on Garda Commissioner as no-confidence vote looms >

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