Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has said that the failure to reach agreement among the Stormont parties at the Haass talks was disappointing but should not be viewed as the end of the road.

Speaking in the House of Commons at Westminster, Ms Villiers said the momentum of the talks chaired by former US diplomat Richard Haass must be maintained.

She also said politicians in Northern Ireland must waste no time in finding a way forward on the controversial issues of parading, the past and flags.

She said she believed there was still a chance of achieving a successful outcome to the discussions, which ended without agreement on New Year's Eve.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Northern Ireland's four main churches have united to encourage politicians to also sustain the momentum from recent negotiations.

A joint statement from the religious figures said: "This is an important time for our society; the momentum for building peace should not be lost.

"We are aware of the focus and effort that the forthcoming elections will require of our politicians but encourage all within the Executive to keep going with the work that has begun so that an acceptable process may be developed."

The letter was signed by Catholic Cardinal Seán Brady, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke, Presbyterian Moderator Dr Rob Craig, Methodist President Dr Heather Morris and Fr Godfrey O'Donnell, President of the Irish Council of Churches.

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist First Minister has said much more work is needed to produce a deal on contentious issues, which have prompted sectarian riots in the recent past.

Peter Robinson said he had not thrown in the towel and his party has endorsed his plan for further discussions.

The Ulster Unionists have already said some of the Haass proposals were unacceptable, but Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has claimed they should be implemented as they stand.