Northern Ireland

Political stability in Northern Ireland is 'UK responsibility'

Theresa May
Image caption Taoiseach Enda Kenny indicated he had agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May there would be no return to direct rule

The British government has stressed that maintaining political stability in Northern Ireland is a UK responsibility.

The comment follows a statement from the Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Enda Kenny indicating he had agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May there will be no return to direct rule.

The UK government wants to see a power-sharing executive restored.

A government spokesperson said: "We are not speculating on any other outcome."

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Image caption Enda Kenny said Northern Ireland political talks and Brexit will are his "immediate priorities"

"We remain firmly focused on securing the resumption of devolved government and the formation of an Executive within the statutory timeframe of 27 March," the spokesperson added.

The Taoiseach told an audience at Bloomberg's offices in New York: "I hope that the elected members of the assembly will now focus through their parties on actually putting an executive in place within the three weeks from the date of the election.

Analysis - BBC News NI's Political Editor Mark Devenport

During his St Patrick's Day visit to the United States Enda Kenny made two striking comments about Northern Ireland first saying he had a deal with Theresa May on no return to direct rule and then indicating he wishes to remain in office until there is a resolution to the deadlock at Stormont.

Initially the UK government appeared reluctant to respond but they have now underlined that they see maintaining political stability in Northern Ireland as the UK's responsibility and that ministers are still focussing on the 27 March deadline for restoring the power sharing executive

The statement does not directly deny Mr Kenny's claims regarding a prime ministerial deal but nor does it substantiate them or lend credence to speculation about a second election

"If that doesn't happen the secretary of state for Northern Ireland (James Brokenshire) would then either have to hold further elections or have direct rule again from Britain.

"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.

Image caption Talks between Northern Ireland's political parties and the UK and Irish governments are continuing with a view to restoring a power-sharing executive at Stormont

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

The DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson told the BBC's Sunday News that he was not aware of any agreement between Mrs May and Mr Kenny regarding no return to direct rule.

"We had no indication from the government at Westminster that they have agreed that line with Dublin so I think Enda was pushing the boat out a little on that one," he said.

Talks between Northern Ireland's political parties and the UK and Irish governments are continuing with a view to restoring a power-sharing executive at Stormont after this month's assembly election.

A third week of negotiations are due to resume on Monday.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has indicated that he will not step down until political uncertainty in Northern Ireland and over Brexit is resolved.

Speaking during a week-long visit to the United States, he said those issues are his "immediate priorities".

Mr Kenny will return to Dublin on Saturday, having met US President Donald Trump on his trip to America.

Critics within his Fine Gael party have been pressing for him to give a timetable for his departure as leader.

Last month, the Irish coalition government, made up of Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance, survived a vote of no confidence in parliament.

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Image caption Mr Kenny met President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday

Before leaving Ireland for his annual engagements in the US to mark St Patrick's Day, Mr Kenny told his party that he would address his future "effectively and conclusively" when he returned.

But during the St Patrick's Day parade in New York on Friday, he said that political talks in Northern Ireland and forming a standpoint on Brexit would "take precedence over everything else".

"I have a number of immediate priorities on my desk when I arrive back tomorrow morning," he told Irish journalists.

"You can't have a situation where you have no leadership in Northern Ireland.

"Do you not think it is appropriate that the immediate priority is to have an executive functioning in Northern Ireland?"

Talks between Northern Ireland's political parties and the UK and Irish governments are continuing with a view to restoring a power-sharing executive at Stormont after this month's assembly election.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Mr Kenny was in New York for the St Patrick's Day parade, where thousands of people lined Fifth Avenue

Mr Kenny also said that it was important for him to "get an agreed negotiating stance" with other European Union member states ahead of talks with the UK over its withdrawal from the union.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will begin the Brexit process by the end of this month, a move that looks set to have major implications for the neighbouring Republic of Ireland.

"It's going to affect everybody in our country - these are two immediate priorities," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Kenny was re-elected as Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) in May 2016, after a general election that produced no outright winner.

He has led Fine Gael since 2002 and held the office of Taoiseach since 2011.

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