Northern Ireland news

James Brokenshire: Continuing to pay MLAs may not be 'justified'

Secretary of State James Brokenshire has questioned continuing to pay MLAs while Stormont is in limbo. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

PAYING Assembly members who have not sat for several months may not be "justified", the Secretary of State has warned.

In what will be seen as his strongest message yet, James Brokenshire said last night the parties must reach an agreement to restore power-sharing.

In a speech to the British Irish Association Conference in Cambridge, he said the British government "retains ultimate responsibility for good governance and political stability in Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom and we will not shirk from the necessary measures to deliver that".

"At the same time we will need to consider carefully a range of other issues reflecting public concern, including whether it can continue to be justified to pay Assembly members who have not met for several months now," he said.

While the resumption of formal talks aimed at restoring devolution has not yet been announced, Sinn Féin and the DUP revealed earlier this week they had been engaged in discussions for more than a week.

Mr Brokenshire said he would hold further bilateral discussions with the parties on Monday.

"And for the rest of the week further intensive dialogue between the DUP and Sinn Féin will continue," he said.

Mr Brokenshire said the contentious issues between the parties were "relatively small in number and are clearly defined".

He said he and the Republic's minister for foreign affairs, Simon Coveney, are confident agreement can be reached.

"For our part the UK and Irish Governments can support and work with the parties towards that end, in accordance with and fully respecting the three stranded approach," he said.

"But ultimately we cannot force an agreement. That has to come from the parties themselves."

He warned that without devolution, there is no Executive to give its views on Brexit.

And he said the "situation simply is not sustainable", adding that the imposition of direct rule would be a "hugely retrograde step, a massive setback after so many years of progress and hope".

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