The Northern Ireland Secretary has given Stormont’s divided politicians more time to clinch a deal.
James Brokenshire said he will legislate to give civil servants in the North greater authority to spend money in the absence of a devolved government, but said that critical point had not been reached.
He declined to order a new election or impose direct rule from Westminster, as yet another deadline for the five parties to reach agreement fell by the wayside last Thursday.
Mr Brokenshire told the House of Commons: “This hiatus cannot continue for much longer. There is no doubt that the best outcome is for a new executive to take those strategic decisions in the interest of all.”
He warned of the impact on public services of the continued stalemate and said he was prepared to step in to safeguard political stability.
Mr Brokenshire said: “If no agreement is reached, legislation in Westminster may then be required to give authority for the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments through an appropriations bill.
“We have not quite reached that point. That point is coming and the lack of a formal budget is not something that can be sustained indefinitely.”
He said capital expenditure for infrastructure in areas like the health service cannot be deferred for much longer. As Mr Brokenshire spoke at Westminster, the main parties at Stormont continued to blame each other for the impasse.
DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed Sinn Féin was more concerned with adding to its “shopping list” of demands rather than seeking compromises to restore powersharing.
Ms Foster said that her party wanted to see devolution up and running again but was not prepared to sign off on a one-sided deal that would leave the unionist community feeling “short-changed”.
“Sinn Féin have a shopping list, a shopping list that seems to get longer every time we meet with them,” she said.
“That is very disappointing for all of the people of Northern Ireland who make it very clear to us that they want to see devolution back up and running again on a fair and proportionate basis.”
Earlier, Sinn Féin negotiator Conor Murphy again accused the DUP of refusing to budge on a series of outstanding disputes.
The party is demanding DUP movement on a proposed Irish Language Act; a Bill of Rights for the region; legalisation of same sex marriage; and measures dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
“We don’t see any urgency in terms of the DUP approach to this and we don’t expect and don’t think it is likely that there will be a deal in the short term because there is that lack of urgency,” said Mr Murphy.
Reflecting on the upcoming Twelfth of July, the mainstay of the loyal order marching season, he added: “We are in the bizarre situation, I’m sure it’s unique to here, that over the summer time we have to break because the atmosphere becomes too hostile for political negotiations.”
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