Sinn Féin say no to new round of negotiations
The prospect of restoring devolution in the near-to-medium term evaporated last night as Sinn Féin ruled out fresh talks with the DUP.
The party's stance significantly increases the likelihood of direct rule, with former DUP finance minister Simon Hamilton claiming republicans have "checked out of politics in Northern Ireland".
It had been speculated in recent days that a new round of negotiations between Stormont's two biggest parties would take place this week after their failure to secure agreement in the last phase of talks.
With both Sinn Féin and the DUP having held their respective annual conferences over the past two weekends, it is believed Secretary of State James Brokenshire hoped to bring fresh momentum to the stalled process. The secretary of state implemented a budget for the north earlier this month and in September said the region was on a "glide path" to direct rule.
He met all Stormont's main parties yesterday.
But Sinn Féin emerged from its meeting with Mr Brokenshire saying there was no basis to move forward.
The party's northern leader Michelle O'Neill said the onus was now on the Irish and British governments.
"When the last phase of talks ended, we made clear that the issues at the heart of the crisis were not going away and needed to be addressed," she said.
“We met the British government today but they did not produce any firm proposals to move the process forward."
Ms O'Neill said she wanted the executive restored but that the "issues of rights and outstanding agreements must be addressed".
“In the absence of agreement, the onus remains on the two governments to spell out how they intend to ensure the implementation of previous agreements, end the DUP’s denial of rights and pave a pathway to restore the institutions," she said.
The Mid Ulster MLA said her party was unwilling to "go round and round a hamster wheel in endless talks".
Mr Hamilton said the DUP was ready to talk but warned that "Northern Ireland cannot go on indefinitely without Ministers to take important decisions".
"Sinn Féin voters, as much as voters for any party, need a government up and running again to deal with issues in health, in housing, in education and in the economy," he said.
"One would be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Sinn Fein have checked out of politics in Northern Ireland and are now only interested in the politics of the Irish Republic."
The Strangford MLA said Sinn Féin's claim about previous agreements not being honoured was an excuse which "has been proven to hold no water".
He said it was time to look at the options that would "allow the people of Northern Ireland to have the government they need".