Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire said that government officials north and south had “engaged intensively” to try resolve issues at Stormont with a view to avoiding a fresh election.
He made the comments during an Oral Statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after announcing the Assembly election will take place on March 2. Mr Brokenshire said: “Regrettably, and despite all our collective efforts, it has not proved possible to find an agreed way forward in the time available.
Mr Brokenshire said he will now take forward the process of submitting an Order in Council for approval to the Queen of England, on the advice of the Privy Council, formally setting in law the election date, adding that there was a need to safeguard stability.
He said: “The decisions that I have taken have also been informed by my ongoing discussions with Northern Ireland’s political leadership.
“All Right Honourable and Honourable members in this House will understand that elections by their nature are hotly contested.
“That is part of the essence of our democracy and nobody expects the debates around the key issues in Northern Ireland to be anything less than robust.
“I would, however, like to stress the following: This election is about the future of Northern Ireland and its political institutions. Not just the Assembly but all of the arrangements that have been put in place to reflect relationships throughout these islands.
“That is why it will be vital for the campaign to be conducted respectfully and in ways that do not simply exacerbate tensions and division.”
He added that once the campaign is over the north need to be in a position to re-establish strong and stable devolved government in Northern Ireland.
“And let me be very clear,” he said, “I am not contemplating any outcome other than the re-establishment of strong and stable devolved government. For all the reasons I set out in my statement last week, devolution remains this Government’s strongly preferred option for Northern Ireland.
“It’s about delivering a better future for the people of Northern Ireland and meeting their expectations.
“Over the past decade Northern Ireland has enjoyed the longest run of unbroken devolved government since before the demise of the old Stormont Parliament in 1972.
It has not always been easy, with more than a few bumps in the road but with strong leadership issues that might once have brought the institutions down have been resolved through dialogue.
“And Northern Ireland has been able to present itself to the world in a way that would have been unrecognisable a few years ago. A modern, dynamic and outward looking Northern Ireland that’s a great place to live, work, invest and do business.
Mr Speaker, Northern Ireland has come so far and we cannot allow the gains that have been made to be derailed.”