James Brokenshire has met with party leaders in Northern Ireland in an effort to get elected representatives back running the country from Stormont.
The secretary of state’s intervention comes just days after civil servants in the Province introduced a previously agreed pay rise for health service workers.
The implementation of the new pay arrangement was one of a number of policy decisions left on the shelf due to the absence of an Executive at Stormont.
Following the round of meetings on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Office said: “The secretary of state remains focused on restoring devolution – this serves Northern Ireland’s interests best. He is speaking with party leaders today.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster said her party remains ready to “engage in talks at any time”.
She said: “The DUP wanted to form the Executive immediately following the election in March. Sinn Fein walked away from the talks after the secretary of state introduced a budget; a budget that was necessary to ensure that vital public services continued here in Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Foster added: “There are difficult decisions facing Northern Ireland, but we want to see the Executive restored to start tackling those issues. Sinn Fein have abdicated their responsibilities and have not engaged with other parties recently.”
Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill accused the DUP of preventing a return to power-sharing.
“Sinn Fein want the Executive restored. We want to be in there driving forward the transformative change that is required in areas like health and education but the DUP is, in effect, putting unpopular party and personal views ahead of our health, education and other essential public services. The majority of MLAs also want to see marriage equality, language rights and legacy inquests delivered.
“The majority of MLAs are progressive in their thinking,” Ms O’Neill said.
Robin Swann, leader of the Ulster Unionists, said “nobody is more frustrated” than his party at the lack of political progress.
“The secretary of state should not be afraid to take the necessary steps to enable him to intervene where necessary. Senior civil servants have recently stepped in and made a number of important decisions, but we need democratic accountability.
“If local politicians cannot – or will not – take decisions, then the secretary of state must step up to the mark and call their bluff.”