North's institutions on verge of collapse, warns Flanagan
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan has voiced grave fears that the Northern Ireland institutions are about to collapse.
In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr Flanagan sounded a stark warning that the Northern Assembly and the wider devolved institutions in Belfast are in serious difficulty.
"There is a great risk that the current impasse will result in the collapse of the institutions, which would be very grave and serious.
"There is not a huge amount of time, but over the next few weeks there is an opportunity for all the parties in Northern Ireland to resolve the issues of finance and welfare reform," Mr Flanagan said.
The Laois/Offaly TD warned that should the institutions collapse, then the North risks again being subsumed by the violence and aggression that has marked it for so long.
"If the institutions collapse, there is no knowing when they might be re-established.
"You are looking at a prolonged period of direct rule.
"Northern Ireland would be facing a very uncertain future, a climate of instability which often times feeds into aggression and violence and the dark old days of the past. I think it is important that is avoided," he said.
"If agreement can't be reached now on the issues of finance and welfare, then the Stormont House Agreement risks collapse on the basis of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," he added.
Last night, Sinn Féin offered "conditional support" to a spending plan, dubbed by some as the "fantasy budget", that commits the Stormont Executive to a £600m overspend for the rest of the financial year.
The Sinn Féin move does not bring a resolution to the huge political row over welfare reform implementation any closer, but is designed to give local politicians more time to help them resolve their differences.