HOPES for a new gov­ern­ment in the North were shat­tered yes­ter­day af­ter DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter has said there is no prospect of restor­ing the Ex­ec­u­tive.

In a state­ment that tor­pe­doed talks aimed at end­ing the 13-month im­passe at Stor­mont, she said at­tempts to find a sta­ble and sus­tain­able res­o­lu­tion had been un­suc­cess­ful.

She added: “In our view, there is no cur­rent prospect of these dis­cus­sions lead­ing to an Ex­ec­u­tive be­ing formed.

“It is now in­cum­bent upon the Gov­ern­ment to set a bud­get and start mak­ing pol­icy de­ci­sions about our schools, hos­pi­tals and in­fra­struc­ture.

“Im­por­tant de­ci­sions im­pact­ing on ev­ery­one have been sit­ting in limbo for too long. I had dearly hoped we could have re­stored an Ex­ec­u­tive and lo­cal min­is­ters could have taken those de­ci­sions. That is not pos­si­ble at this time. North­ern Ire­land is best gov­erned by lo­cal min­is­ters who are ac­count­able to lo­cal peo­ple.”

Sinn Fein’s Stor­mont leader Michelle O’neill said: “We en­gaged, we worked in good faith, we stretched our­selves.

“We had reached an ac­com­mo­da­tion with the lead­er­ship of the DUP.

“The DUP failed to close the deal. They have now col­lapsed this process.”.

The fail­ure just days

Taoiseach came af­ter Leo Varad­kar and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May trav­elled to Stor­mont to urge the par­ties to reach a deal.

She claimed there was a “ba­sis for agree­ment” and an Ex­ec­u­tive could be “up and run­ning very soon”.

The Stor­mont gov­ern­ment col­lapsed last year in a row over a botched green en­ergy scheme.

Since then di­vi­sions over is­sues in­clud­ing Irish lan­guage rights, same-sex mar­riage and how to deal with the legacy of the Trou­bles have proved in­sur­mount­able.

Sinn Fein wants a stand­alone Irish Lan­guage Act – but the DUP has long in­sisted it would only coun­te­nance new laws if they also in­cor­po­rate other cul­tures such as Ul­ster Scots.

Mrs Fos­ter added: “Restor­ing a sus­tain­able and fully func­tion­ing de­volved gov­ern­ment will re­main our goal but we will not ac­cept a one-sided deal.

“Any agree­ment to re­store the Ex­ec­u­tive must be on a sen­si­ble ba­sis. We can­not and will not be held to ran­som by those who have re­fused to form an Ex­ec­u­tive for more than 13 months.”

North­ern Sec­re­tary Karen Bradley said “sub­stan­tive progress” had been made but con­ceded “this phase of talks has reached a con­clu­sion”.

“We now need to con­sider prac­ti­cal steps.

“Chal­leng­ing de­ci­sions will have to be taken by the UK Gov­ern­ment and I will up­date Par­lia­ment when the House re­turns from re­cess next week.”

The Irish Gov­ern­ment, co-guar­an­tor of the Good Fri­day Agree­ment which largely ended vi­o­lence, has said there can be no re­turn to di­rect rule.

For­eign Min­is­ter Si­mon Coveney said: “The UK and Irish govern­ments have an obli­ga­tion to up­hold and pro­tect the let­ter and spirit of that Agree­ment.

“We will need to re­flect in the com­ing days on how best to do that.”

END OF THE LINE Ar­lene Fos­ter at Stor­mont yes­ter­day

FRUS­TRA­TION Leo Varad­kar, Karen Bradley and Michelle O’neill

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