US urges Northern politicians to 'quickly find a way forward'
The US government has urged a swift resumption of power-sharing in Northern Ireland as it heads into a divisive election campaign.
There are fears that the coming weeks will make a coalition even less likely and this would mean a return to direct rule if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks after the poll on March 2.
The US statement said: "The United States remains committed to supporting a more peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.
"To this end, we urge all political parties to focus on quickly finding a way forward to the resumption of stable devolved governance.
"We also encourage civil society leaders to continue their vital work building a better, shared future.
"Restored devolved democratic institutions and an engaged, constructive citizenry can best take Northern Ireland forward."
With talks on the cards after the Assembly election, the US has yet to announce a replacement for former senator Gary Hart, who stood down as the country's special envoy to Northern Ireland in December.
It is believed any successor is unlikely to be announced before Donald Trump's inauguration on Friday.
Meanwhile, the DUP accused Sinn Féin of triggering the March 2 election to force more concessions from Westminster.
As Sinn Féin demanded a stronger commitment to power-sharing from the DUP, its deputy leader Nigel Dodds insisted: "As we have in the past, we will not be giving in to Sinn Féin's wish-list of demands."
His attack came just hours after the Irish and British governments asked for the election to be held in an "atmosphere of calm".
After the poll, there will be a week for the Assembly to attempt to appoint a first minister and deputy first minister, followed by a further two weeks to allow the selection of a full Executive under the d'Hondt mechanism. After that point - if Sinn Féin insists it will not return to the "status quo" - Northern Ireland Secretary Brokenshire will face a decision on whether to suspend the Assembly and re-introduce direct rule, or to call another election.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams insisted his party remains committed to the restoration of the Assembly and Executive.
Mr Adams said that while the DUP's handling of the RHI scandal had been the "tipping point", its attitude to power-sharing and the outcome of the Brexit vote had also brought about the collapse of the Executive and Assembly, which will be dissolved tomorrow.
TUV leader Jim Allister argued: "Sinn Féin has never wanted or intended Northern Ireland to work.
"Now, they are ready to use the leverage of pulling the house down to advance their insatiable republican agenda. Unionists have nothing left to give. The DUP, in particular, with its attachment to power any power, needs to realise this."