Northern Ireland power-sharing deadline extended to Monday as parties miss the boat again

Lucy White
Early Elections Expected At Stormont
Brokenshire agreed yesterday that a return to direct rule by Westminster in Northern Ireland would be a backwards step. (Source: Getty)

Political leaders in Northern Ireland today missed another deadline at 4pm to restore power-sharing, leaving open the prospect that the country could be directly ruled by Westminster for the first time in decades.

The government meanwhile have extended the deadline until Monday, though this was already the fourth time that a cutoff had been missed.

Read more: Northern Ireland secretary sets Easter deadline for Stormont negotiations

Britain's Northern Ireland minister James Brokenshire and Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney had been facilitating the talks of a scheduled Assembly, which was sitting to nominate ministers.

Northern Ireland's government failed in January after Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, then-deputy first minister, resigned over a botched energy scheme – leaving the DUP's Arlene Foster in power.

The country's power-sharing consensus under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement mandates a coalition between the pro-British unionist party and the Irish nationalist party.

But Brokenshire said a number of issues were outstanding between the two main parties.

"There is not going to be a breakthrough which will lead to nominations taking place today," DUP assembly member Edwin Poots told reporters.

"Talks will continue. We can conclude this within days but that is not in our gift."

The Irish and British governments, who are guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, have warned that a failure to reach an agreement would have "profound and serious" implications and limit Northern Ireland's influence in Brexit talks.

The main sticking point is the Irish language. Sinn Fein is demanding to give the Irish language legal status, while the DUP would prefer to accommodate Irish and Ulster-Scots.

"We have been met with an anti-equality and anti-rights agenda,” Sinn Fein regional assembly member Conor Murphy told reporters.

"We are trying to get past that, but we're not there yet."

In a House of Commons debate yesterday, Brokenshire agreed that a return to direct rule by Westminster in Northern Ireland would be a backwards step.

“I think that there is a growing consensus that the next stage needs to be the publication of a consultation around the Stormont House agreement bodies, which are founded on the principle of fairness and proportionality,” he said.

Read more: Ireland: Brexit's forgotten frontier

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