The British and Irish prime ministers held talks with Northern Ireland’s feuding political parties on Monday and said later they were hopeful the province’s year-old political stalemate would soon end.
The British province has been without a devolved executive for over a year since Irish nationalists Sinn Fein withdrew from a power-sharing government with their arch-rivals, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Failure to reach a deal would be likely to lead to the introduction of direct rule of the region from London for the first time in a decade and a diplomatic dispute over what role the Irish government should then have in the region, reports Reuters.
It would further destabilise a delicate balance between Irish nationalists and unionists who, until last year, had run the province since 2007 under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace accord which ended three decades of violence.
“The differences that exist between the DUP and Sinn Fein are not insurmountable, and we are very hopeful that those two parties will be able to come to an agreement this week,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told journalists after the talks.
Britain’s Theresa May called on the parties to make one final push. “It should be possible to see an executive up and running in Northern Ireland very soon,” she added.
The DUP and Sinn Fein have failed to reach agreement on a number of issues, including the introduction of same-sex marriage, which is illegal in Northern Ireland but legal in the rest of Britain and Ireland.
Rights for Irish-language speakers and funding for inquests into deaths during the decades of Protestant-Catholic sectarian violence before 1998 have also proved contentious.