In Brief

Direct rule looms as Northern Ireland's parties fail to agree

Sinn Fein and DUP deadlocked over calls for Irish language act

Westminster could take direct control of Northern Ireland again after the province's two main political parties failed to reach a deal to restore power-sharing to Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire set a deadline of 4pm yesterday for Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party to come to an agreement, but talks remained deadlocked over nationalist demands for an Irish language act.

The status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is "a sensitive issue of cultural identity, much like the flying of flags", says Sky News.

Sinn Fein is demanding a standalone law to give Irish equal status with English in the province, but the DUP proposed a hybrid act, accommodating the Irish language and those who speak Ulster Scots.

Republican Conor Murphy criticised the "confidence and supply" deal between the DUP and the Tories for making an agreement more difficult.

"The alliance with the DUP has emboldened their anti-rights and anti-equality agenda, has increased their intransigence and that isn't acceptable or sustainable," he said, reports the BBC.

Brokenshire could now be forced to re-introduce direct rule, giving Westminster a greater say in making decisions in Northern Ireland, the first time this has happened in more than a decade. 

London is reluctant to pursue this course, but DUP leaders expressed "a preference for direct rule ministers" to get the province out of its state of "paralysis", adds the broadcaster.

Alternatively, Brokenshire "has the option of calling another assembly election or giving the parties more time to negotiate", says The Independent.

Last night, Downing Street said talks would continue until Monday, when the Northern Ireland Secretary will make a statement on the government's intended action.

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