The Government’s “overwhelming priority” is the restoration of the Executive at Stormont, but Westminster will not wait much longer for success in talks to resolve crucial issues, Secretary of State James Brokenshire warned last night.
Addressing a dinner attended by the leading business people in the province he said any more to direct rule would “profoundly be a step back,” and urged everyone to do “all they can” to bring the country back to restored adminstration and on to greater economic success.
“Our overriding priority for the UK Government in Northern Ireland remains the restoration of devolved power-sharing government in Stormont,” he said.
“I have been clear with the parties that they must come together and reach agreement in the short window of time that remains.
“If this does not happen within a short number of weeks, we risk greater political decision-making from Westminster - starting with provision for a 2017-18 Budget this autumn.
“This is not what anyone wants and would profoundly be a step back not a step forwards.
“I have very much welcomed the growing voice of businesses, trade unions, the voluntary sector and others in stressing the need for the return of devolved government.
“And tonight, I would encourage all of you here to continue to make it clear to the political parties just how important the restoration of devolved government is for business, for ordinary people and for Northern Ireland as a whole.”
Mr Brokenshire’s comments came after a meeting earlier on Thursday between the heads of three business groups and the Shadow Secreatry Owen Smith.
The CEOs of Hospitality Ulster, Colin Neill, Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, and Retail NI Glyn Roberts later issued a joint statement expressing their increasing concern at the growing impact of the impasse.
“The three sectors that we represent are the largest in Northern Ireland, employ tens of thousands of workers with a turnover of billions to the local economy”
“Growing our retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors is essential for the future of Northern Ireland and its economy”
“Our respective members are deeply frustrated at the continual deadlock at Stormont and are concerned that direct rule is a likely prospect.
“While devolution was never perfect, it was considerably better having locally elected and accountable Ministers in place.”