Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has said there is a "steely resolve" to save Northern Ireland's powersharing executive.

He was speaking ahead of negotiations due to begin next week, which aim to resolve the ongoing problems at Stormont.

Minister Flanagan said: "I have spoken in recent days to the leadership of the Executive parties. I have heard very clearly the hurt and frustration that they feel.

"But underneath that, I have discerned a deep and steely resolve to save the powersharing institutions.

"Every party is 'up for talks' because, whether they are articulating it or not, every party knows what is at stake: the survival of the powersharing institutions themselves."

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson has described comments on the issue of welfare reform from the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers as a potential game-changer for the Assembly’s finances.

Ms Villiers said yesterday that the British government will take over responsibility for welfare reform in the North if the political parties at Stormont could not agree on the issue. 

Mr Robinson said in a statement that his party has been pressing the British government to take this step as a way of resolving the present impasse over welfare reform.

He said this case was made to British Prime Minister David Cameron as recently as last Tuesday in their meeting at Downing Street.

Mr Robinson said: "There is no doubt that this statement will introduce a dose of reality to these negotiations and make a resolution more likely.

"This move allows the Executive to put our finances on a firm and sustainable footing and will lift the prospect of fines running to hundreds of millions of pounds next year."

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "Any move by the British government to impose its welfare cuts agenda over the heads of the Assembly and Executive will seriously undermine devolution and the political institutions."