James Brokenshire warns parties must agree or face second snap election

James Brokenshire
James Brokenshire

The Secretary of State has warned Northern Ireland could be facing another election if the political parties cannot reach agreement within three weeks.

In a letter to all MPs James Brokenshire also set out the consequences of the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein failing to strike a deal which would include disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the public.

The parties are currently locked in talks following last week's snap election which saw Sinn Fein dramatically narrow the gap on its powersharing partners the DUP.

But in a letter sent today Mr Brokenshire warned: "If no agreement is reached in the short window following the election, there would be a number of significant consequences.

"There would be no Executive, no real budget, no Programme for Government and risks to public services. Ultimately we would also be facing a second election with ongoing disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the people of Northern Ireland that would bring."

However Mr Brokenshire added that he was "not contemplating any other outcome but a resumption of devolved government as soon as possible".

SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie said both the British and Irish Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, "need to be more pro-active in working with the Parties to ensure that a political settlement can be achieved which results in the restoration of political institutions".

The recent election in Northern Ireland ended the unionist majority at Stormont with Sinn Fein now just one seat behind the DUP.

Sinn Fein and the DUP have just three weeks to reach a deal.

If no power-sharing government is formed, power could return to the UK Parliament at Westminster for the first time in a decade.

Mr Brokenshire and Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan have been meeting with parties in a bid to help resolve the crisis.

In his letter to MPs, Mr Brokenshire said while the responsibility for forming a new Executive rests with the DUP and Sinn Fein as the two largest parties, he has offered to work intensively with all parties to secure progress.

He added that there is an urgent need to resolve the implementation of the commitments on legacy issues in a former agreement, known as the Stormont House Agreement.

Mr Brokenshire concluded: "I am clear that I am not contemplating any other outcome but a resumption of devolved government as soon as possible. This is what the people want and what Northern Ireland needs."

Ms Ritchie warned of the urgent need "for a budget and significant policies to be put in place to mitigate and reduce the spiralling health waiting lists for diagnostic and surgical procedures. "

She added: "Our children and teachers are suffering in schools awaiting the approval of three-year rolling budgets to allow the delivery of our curriculum to ensure that a first-class education service can be delivered for all within the community.

"That is the challenge facing all of us at this important juncture in all our lives".