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The British government has warned there is only a “short window of opportunity” to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland after a collapse in power-sharing talks has raised the prospect of fresh elections or direct rule from London.
James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for Northern Ireland, said there remained “significant gaps” between parties involved in talks to form a new government after Sinn Fein pulled the plug on negotiations on Sunday.
Following elections earlier this month, Mr Brokenshire said there was “no appetite” to hold a new vote or return to direct rule, but warned Northern Ireland would be without a fixed budget if a government cannot be formed in the coming weeks.
Differences between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist party centre around “cultural” and “identity” issues, said the minister – hinting at divisions over the recognition of Irish as an official language. The DUP has opposed formal recognition.
The impasse comes as the UK will trigger the Article 50 clause to start its EU exit process on Wednesday.
“There are a short few weeks in order to resolve matters”, said the secretary of state, warning Northern Ireland would enter an “extended period” of uncertainty in its budgetary arrangements and public services without a devolved government in place.
“We are determined to see that devolved government is restored here at the earliest opportunity.”
From Wednesday, control of Northern Ireland’s financial resources will fall to the civil service in Stormont, said Mr Brokenshire.