'We must rebuild a North that works' - Brokenshire
Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has insisted the gains of the past must not be derailed and called for a respectful election campaign.
He was forced to announce a poll on Monday after Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in a row with the DUP over the 'cash-for-ash' scandal.
Mr Brokenshire said: "Northern Ireland has come so far and we cannot allow the gains that have been made to be derailed.
"So, yes, we have an election.
"But once this election is over, we need to be in a position to continue building a Northern Ireland that works for everyone."
The former first minister at Stormont, Arlene Foster, predicted the contest would be "brutal".
But Mr Brokenshire warned a divisive election could exacerbate tensions ahead of efforts to rebuild a coalition.
"Once the campaign is over, we need to be in a position to re-establish strong and stable devolved government in Northern Ireland," he said.
There are fears that a polarised campaign will make a rapprochement between the DUP and Sinn Féin even less likely.
This raises the spectre of a return to direct rule from London if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks on the other side of the March 2 poll.
Over the past decade, Northern Ireland has enjoyed the longest run of unbroken devolved government since before the demise of the old Stormont parliament in 1972.
"It has not always been easy, with more than a few bumps in the road but, with strong leadership, issues that might once have brought the institutions down have been resolved through dialogue," said Mr Brokenshire.
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Dave Anderson also said that imposing direct control of the country from Westminster will serve no one.