Powersharing deal needs compromise but is still achievable, says James Brokenshire
The British government has urged Northern Ireland's political leaders to look to the "bigger picture" and strike a compromise that will see powersharing restored.
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire encouraged the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin to finally resolve their differences so the region can look to a more positive future - one he insisted was filled with potential and opportunities.
As the clock ticks towards an effective deadline of the end of the month, when the Westminster government will have to intervene to set a budget for Stormont's rudderless public services, Mr Brokenshire told a business breakfast that, while the atmosphere in talks between the parties had improved, there was still work to do to reach a deal.
"Do I think it is possible? Yes, I do," he told the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (Acca) Business Leader Forum in Belfast.
"I think this is eminently doable, but it still requires that spirit of compromise and I would encourage the leaders of both main parties to underline the leadership they have both already shown to continue to do that and to look beyond the issues that have separated them.
"It is doable, it is achievable - but we are not there yet."
Mr Brokenshire added: "Ultimately it is their decision, and so I would encourage anyone with that sense of influence, that ability to underline that bigger picture of what it means to Northern Ireland, to see that the parties do find that spirit of compromise, do show the leadership they have shown in the past and get on and get back to Stormont and get on with serving the needs of everyone across the whole of Northern Ireland."
Northern Ireland has been without a first and deputy first minister since January and a functioning executive since March. The institutions collapsed when late Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned over the DUP's handling of a botched renewable heat scheme.
That rift exposed more deep-seated differences between the two main parties, none more so than the Irish language.
The language issue is now the main obstacle in the way of a return to devolved government.
Sinn Féin insists it will not re-enter a coalition executive in Belfast without an Irish language act to protect Gaelic speakers.
The DUP would agree to a wider cultural act, which also incorporates protections for the Ulster Scots culture, but it will not sign off on a free-standing piece of legislation which focuses solely on Irish.
Talks to restore powersharing have rumbled on for months without a breakthrough.