Northern Ireland: Direct rule an option if talks fail, says minister

Power sharing could be reintroduced in Northern Ireland if talks on forming a new Stormont executive fail, the Northern Ireland Secretary has warned.

The deadline to form a new government passed on Monday without an agreement after talks collapsed on Sunday.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire told the House of Commons that: "In the absence of devolved government, it is ultimately for the United Kingdom Government to provide for political stability and good governance."

He said the Government "did not want to see a return to direct rule" but would "consider all options" if powersharing talks failed.

The joint Democratic Unionist and Sinn Fein administration collapsed in January after a row over a botched green energy scheme.

No party gained a majority in the subsequent election and talks to form a new coalition executive have so far proved unsuccessful.

On Monday, Mr Brokenshire said that a "short window of opportunity" still remained to resolve the outstanding issues between the DUP and Sinn Fein, due to the Easter recess, which lasts until 18 April.

If an agreement can be reached by then Mr Brokenshire said he would seek to amend the law to allow a new executive to be formed without the need for another snap election.

However, if talks failed he said that at a minimum he would bring forward legislation to "set a regional rate" to allow local councils in Northern Ireland to carry out their functions.

Without a ruling executive or agreed budget for the upcoming financial year, control of Stormont's finances will be handed to a senior civil servant on Wednesday, subject to tight spending constraints.

Mr Brokenshire repeated his view that the situation was "not sustainable" in the long term.

He said he had spoken with the main political leaders and the Irish government since Monday and detected a "strong willingness" to continue the dialogue with a view to resolving the outstanding issues.