There is a “genuine but narrow window to reach agreement” on restoring the powersharing executive at Stormont, according to the Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley.
Delivering an update on the talks aimed at breaking the deadlock over the Assembly, she said there is a “genuine will” to “reach agreement and return to devolved government”.
Ms Bradley also defended not taking questions from the press after recent talks in Stormont, saying there is nothing to be gained from “speculation” and “over analysis” of the situation.
In a statement to the Commons she said a review of the talks concluded they “should continue and intensify”, adding: “The process has made good progress thus far and there is now a genuine but narrow window to reach agreement.”
Ms Bradley said there are a “number of areas of consensus” but “there remain real and substantive areas of disagreement”, adding: “The appalling killing of Lyra McKee is a stark reminder of ensuring the hard-won peace and stability on Northern Ireland is not put in jeopardy.”
In response, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd agreed that having spoken to all parties “there is a credible mood that all parties are searching for a solution”, but agreed “there is only a very narrow window” in the political calendar to get it down.
Mr Lloyd said Ms Bradley did not mention the Prime Minister or the Taoiseach in her update, and said despite Theresa May being set to leave office soon, her “capacity to influence the process is real”.
He said: “I do hope the Prime Minister will engage in these last few days and indeed her successor, whoever that may be, will also commit to this talks process.”
In response, Ms Bradley said the PM and the Taoiseach were the ones who carried out the review on the talks, and together issued the statement “asking for talks to continue and intensify”.
Labour MP Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) questioned Ms Bradley about a recent visit to Stormont where she had not taken questions from the press, and called on Ms Bradley to spend more time answering questions from journalists.
Ms Hoey said: “Could you probably take some press questions the next time you make a statement. It does look bad when you do not answer questions, and the Foreign Secretary of the Republic of Ireland answers questions for half an hour.”
Ms Bradley responded: “The criticism I have received on making statements to the press and, perhaps, not answering all their questions at every moment, I would just say to you I want to see devolution restored.”
Ms Bradley added that nothing is gained from “speculation” and “over analysis” of answers.
DUP MP Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) said: “Do you accept that by refusing to answer questions yourself and giving the role to the foreign minister of the Irish Republic, she is allowing the impression to be given that these talks are driven by the Irish Republic, and not in the hands of the UK Government?
“And that is in breach of the three-stranded approach there should be when it comes to these topics.”
Ms Bradley said: “It is my view that the more speculation there is in the press and elsewhere about these matters, the less chance we have of restoring devolved government.”