Northern Ireland news

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson dismisses Taoiseach's claim of agreement on no return to direct rule

Following the Assembly election earlier this month, the parties were given a three week deadline to set up a power-sharing Executive at Stormont. Picture by Paul Faith/PA

DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson has dismissed a claim by Taoiseach Enda Kenny that the British and Irish governments have agreed that there will be no return to direct rule from London.

The Lagan Valley MP said he was not aware that the two governments had made any such agreement and claimed Mr Kenny was "pushing the boat out a little".

A three-week period to form a new Executive is coming to a close after elections on March 2, with no signs of an agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP.

The parties are now entering their final week of negotiations ahead of a deadline of next Monday, March 27, and if a deal is not made, secretary of state James Brokenshire is set to call another election or enforce a period of direct rule.

"We've had no indication from the government at Westminster that they've agreed that line with Dublin," Mr Donaldson told the BBC.

"So I think that Enda was pushing the boat out a little on that one."

Speaking in New York as part of the annual St Patrick's Day visit to the US, Mr Kenny claimed the two governments had agreed direct rule was not an option.

He said: "I have spoken very clearly to the British prime minister and we are both agreed that there will be no return to direct rule from London.

"So I do hope that the executive can be put in place, because this has implications for the peace process."

In response to Mr Kenny's remarks, a UK government spokesman stated that political stability in the north is "the responsibility of the UK government".

"We remain firmly focused on securing the resumption of devolved government and the formation of an Executive within the statutory time frame of 27 March."

The spokesman added: "We are not speculating on any other outcome."

On March 10, secretary of state James Brokenshire sent a letter to all MPs in which he warned of the consequences if the DUP and Sinn Féin cannot come to an agreement.

"If no agreement is reached in the short window following the election, there would be a number of significant consequences," he wrote.

"There would be no Executive, no real budget, no Programme for Government and risks to public services.

"Ultimately we would also be facing a second election with ongoing disruption and uncertainty for businesses and the people of Northern Ireland that would bring."

Last Tuesday, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed that a round-table meeting between the British and Irish governments, and all the Stormont parties, was cancelled at the 11th hour.

It is understood both Sinn Féin and the SDLP had objected to Mr Brokenshire chairing the session.

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