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  1. ITV Report

NI Secretary hints at direct rule at 'earliest opportunity'

Julian Smith signalled action would be taken if an executive isn't formed before the Brexit deadline.

The Northern Ireland Secretary has hinted that the government may need to introduce direct rule at the 'earliest opportunity' if a Stormont executive is not formed.

Julian Smith signalled action would be taken, although he did not provide specifics, as he appeared in the Commons to answer an urgent question from Labour.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive for more than 900 days.

The Secretary of State said progress had been made between parties over the summer; but that there were still important issues to resolve.

Mr Smith was responding to an urgest question from the Shadow NI Secretary Tony Lloyd.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Smith said, "Throughout the period ahead I will be doing everything I can to support and encourage talks to succeed.

"Democratically elected politicians in Northern Ireland are best-placed to take the decisions needed to support hospitals, schools and the police."

Mr Smith also praised the "excellent" work of civil servants in Northern Ireland.

He added, "They cannot, of course, take the proactive decisions that are needed on public services or the economy in the run-up to October 31.

Northern Ireland has been without an executive for more than 900 days. Credit: UTV

"If we cannot secure the restoration of an executive we will pursue the decision-making powers that are needed at the earliest opportunity."

Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Tony Lloyd warned that senior members of the Northern Ireland civil service are "frustrated by their inability to make decisions".

He added the imminent prorogation of Parliament poses "real dangers" in terms of Northern Ireland's governance, and asked when Mr Smith was consulted about the matter.

The Foyle MP has been critical of the Secretary of State's comments. Credit: Pacemaker / Colm Lenaghan

In response, Sinn Féin MP Elisha McCallion has said any moves towards direct rule are unacceptable.

The Foyle MP said, "Any moves by the British government to impose direct rule on the north - in any guise - is unacceptable.

She continued, "The ongoing events in Westminster have shown that the interests of the people of Ireland will never be served by the British government or British parliament."

The leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg announced historical institutional abuse will be on next week's agenda.

The former Secretary of State Karen Bradley expressed concerns about the impact proroguing Parliament may have on the people of Northern Ireland.

Fears were also raised about the impact prorogation of Parliament may have on victims of historical institutional sexual abuse and people who were disabled in the Troubles, saying they needed redress urgently.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, announcing business for next week, listed that a series of debates on matters related to Northern Ireland, including surrounding historical institutional abuse.