NI situation 'grave' - Brokenshire

NI SoS James Brokenshire called the collapse of Stormont 'grave'. Credit: House of Commons

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has described the political situation as 'grave' in the region.

James Brokenshire made the comment on Tuesday as he addressed the House of Commons to update them on the plight of the Stormont institutions.

"The situation we face in Northern Ireland today is grave, and the Government treats it with the utmost seriousness.," he said.

"While the RHI might have been the catalyst for the situation we now face it has, however, exposed a number of deeper tensions in the relationship between parties in the Northern Ireland Executive.

"This has led to a breakdown in the trust co-operation that is necessary for the power-sharing institutions to function effectively.

"Over the coming hours and days I will continue to explore whether any basis exists to resolve these issues prior to me having to fulfil my statutory duty to call an election.

"Both the UK and the Irish Governments will continue to provide every possible support and assistance to the Executive parties.

"If there is no resolution then an election is inevitable, despite the widely held view that this election will change nothing and threaten the continuity of the devolved institutions."

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said the prospect of mandatory coalition looked very minimal and said NI could be facing a period of direct rule from Westminster.

"My own sense of where we are is that we are looking at a prolonged period of direct rule because I don't see these issues being resolved in a talks process in a short space of time," he said.

"I think that Sinn Fein have dealt a serious blow to power-sharing and I think the prospect of a mandatory coalition being restored has been greatly diminished, so if we are going to have another talks process then I think unionists will want to be looking at how Stormont operates and whether we should be moving towards our objective of a voluntary coalition form of government."