Northern Ireland parties given 'small window' to break power-sharing deadlock

Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists have been given "a small window of opportunity" to break the two-month deadlock in Northern Ireland's power-sharing talks.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire - intervening after a deadline for a resolution in the talks passed - said there was "no appetite for any immediate snap election" from either party less than a month after the last poll.

Mr Brokenshire said "progress on a number of issues" had been made but "significant gaps" between the parties remained in talks to form a new coalition executive.

The NI secretary, who described the failure to resolve the crisis as "extremely disappointing", said he would make a full statement in the House of Commons on Tuesday explaining his plan for a resolution.

Sinn Féin and the DUP both blamed each other for the informal collapse of talks on Sunday.

Stormont has been without a functioning government since January.

The sides officially had until 4pm on Monday to solve the deadlock before the NI secretary was forced, under legislation, to call another snap election.

However Mr Brokenshire had the flexibility to name a poll date within a "reasonable period" rather than immediately, giving the sides a few more weeks to reach consensus.

While talking down the likelihood of another vote, Mr Brokenshire warned in a statement that the power crisis was "not sustainable" and would have "consequences" for public services.

The warring parties will be given more time to settle their differences at Stormont Castle in Belfast. Credit: PA

"We're rapidly approaching a point at which Northern Ireland will not have an agreed budget," he said.

"From Wednesday financial resources to allow Northern Ireland department to deliver key public services will fall under the control of the Northern Ireland civil service."

Mr Brokenshire also had the power to take what is regarded as the nuclear option of reintroducing direct rule from Westminster, a move that would have required emergency legislation.

But he played down the prospect, saying: "I believe there remains an overwhelming desire for strong and stable devolved government."

James Brokenshire said the UK government had made 'positive proposals' to try to end the deadlock. Credit: PA

A voting surge by Sinn Fein in the last Assembly election earlier this month saw the party come within one seat of becoming the biggest party at Stormont behind the DUP.

Ahead of the 4pm deadline passing, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she did not believe another election would solve anything.

She claimed Sinn Fein's "inflexible" approach to negotiations was to blame for the deadlock, adding: "We are just disappointed that Sinn Féin did not come to the talks in the same spirit as we came to the talks."

Sinn Féin leader Michelle O'Neill rejected the claim, saying: "We came at the negotiations with the right attitude, wanting to make the institutions work, wanting to deliver for all citizens."