A return of direct rule in Northern Ireland is not an outcome that the Government would want to see happen, in any scenario. A return of fully functioning devolved institutions of the Good Friday Agreement is urgently needed in order to represent the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland and address issues of concern, including the challenges for Northern Ireland resulting from the UK decision to exit the European Union. The North-South Ministerial Council is also essential to oversee and develop North-South cooperation on matters of mutual interest, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement.
I am continuing to work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and remain in regular contact with the leaders of each of the political parties to get the necessary political process under way to secure an agreement for a functioning Executive and Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council.
The continuing absence of vital institutions of the Agreement is a source of deep concern for the Government, as it is for the British Government. The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.
Secretary of State Bradley and I met with the leaders of the five main political parties at Stormont on 15 February, further to our respective consultations with each of the party leaders in January. This meeting sought the parties’ views at this stage on how a new talks process could most constructively be commenced in the period ahead. Each of the party leaders confirmed their wish to participate in the institutions again and provided views on the necessary basis for an effective talks process.
It was agreed that the two Governments would engage further with the parties to seek an urgent way forward with a new political process that can secure an agreement for a functioning Executive and Assembly.
Following these further consultations, the Government does not underestimate the way to go in achieving a resolution, but continues to believe that this can be achieved and that there is an increasingly urgent need for talks to commence.
The two-year absence of the devolved institutions cannot be allowed to continue. There are pressing decisions and issues across a range of areas, which require a functioning Executive and Assembly, and NSMC.
The legislation that was brought forward by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last year, which temporarily suspends the requirement to call an Assembly election, underlines the urgent requirement for all with responsibilities to do everything in their power to get them operating again.
On 21 March, the Secretary of State announced that the period suspending the duty to call an Assembly election would be extended until 25 August. It is imperative therefore that the period ahead is used to get a new political process in place to get all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and working again.