Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire has said the window of opportunity to restore devolved government in Northern Ireland is closing rapidly.

At a press conference this afternoon, he said the focus right now needs to be on the establishment of the Executive.

If no way can be found to agree on the restoration of power-sharing, he said he will have to move to bring in a budget for Northern Ireland.

After meeting with the parties today, Mr Brokenshire said he now favours giving them space, to engage among themselves, as they explore if compromises can be found on the issues that divide them.

Mr Brokenshire has concluded a series of discussions with Northern Ireland's five main parties in Stormont today.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney is due to meet them in Belfast tomorrow as the two governments assess if formal negotiations about the restoration of power-sharing should be convened. 

Mr Brokenshire said: "With pressures in public services already evident, most particularly in the health service, the need for intervention is becoming increasingly clear.

"The UK government has a duty to the people of Northern Ireland to provide political stability and certainty.

"If this political impasse continues, I will be forced to legislate in Westminster for a budget for Northern Ireland and consider next steps. I don't want to have to take this action.

"My intent is for politicians, elected by the people of Northern Ireland, to form an Executive and to make urgent decisions on the delivery of critical public services."

The discussions come as proposals floated by DUP leader Arlene Foster last Thursday were dismissed by Sinn Féin, who described her offer as one she knew would be refused. 

There has been no administration at Stormont since January. 

The two governments are conscious that during the political vacuum, day-to-day responsibilities fall to civil servants and no significant policy initiatives are taken. 

If there is no realistic prospect of restoring power-sharing, then a return to direct rule becomes a possibility. 

This would undermine the concept of devolved government that is such an important principle of the Good Friday Agreement. 

Sinn Féin is due to have its own 'think-in' over a two-day period mid-week.

Chief Brexit negotiator reaffirms need to protect peace process

The EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said more work needs to be done by the UK on preserving the North-South dimension of the Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Barnier said: "While the talks [last week] were fruitful, it's clear that a lot more substantial work needs to be done. In particular, we need to continue discussions on all the areas of North South co-operation."

The EU's Brexit Task Force, led by Mr Barnier, is expected to publish its long-awaited position paper on Ireland this week.

Following a lunch with Mr Coveney, Mr Barnier said: "Ireland's concerns are the Union's concerns, and all member states and EU institutions are fully united in this regard."

However, he added: "At the same time, we know that every solution we look at will have to be fully compatible with EU law and the single market."

In a statement, the EU's chief negotiator said: "Our aim in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations is to ensure that the Common Travel Area and the Good Friday Agreement, for which the UK has special responsibility as co-guarantor, are not affected by the UK's decision to leave the Union. 

"The decision to leave was a UK decision, not EU's or Ireland's."

Mr Coveney said Ireland was in a uniquely vulnerable position as a small country that had an interwoven relationship with the UK, from a trade, historical and political perspective.

He told reporters: "The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has potentially an extraordinarily negative impact on Ireland and on the island of Ireland. 

"That is why in the first phase of the negotiations … Ireland is one of the big three issues that there needs to be progress on before we can move on to the broader issues of trade, the transition and the future [UK-EU] relationship."

Mr Coveney said that the complexity and detail of the Good Friday Agreement was "delivered on the assumption that Britain and Ireland would remain members of the European Union, and many of the articles within the Good Friday Agreement are very clear in terms of that assumption.

"How do we … maintain what a peace process has delivered on the island of Ireland, which is effectively an invisible border which is 500km long, that has more than 260 road crossings on it, and that has nearly two million cars crossing every single month?

"How do we do that in the context of part of the island leaving the European Union, and rest of it remaining an enthusiastic member of the European Union?"

Mr Coveney said Ireland would continue to act as a partner and member of the EU "trusting in the task force in continuing to take our interests forward in a responsible and sensible way."

Earlier, Mr Coveney met the European Parliament's main interlocutor on the Brexit talks, Guy Verhofstadt MEP. He is also meeting Irish MEPs in the parliament this afternoon.

Mr Barnier has called for deeper discussions on how the UK's split from Europe will impact North-South relations.

After talks with Mr Coveney in Brussels, Mr Barnier reiterated the need to protect the peace process.

"Our aim in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations is to ensure that the Common Travel Area and the Good Friday Agreement, of which the UK government has a special responsibility as co-guarantor, are not affected by the UK's decision to leave the union," Mr Barnier said.

Mr Barnier said the Brexit decision was respected in Brussels.

And he added: "I said last week that while our discussions were fruitful, it's clear that a lot more substantial work needs to be done, in particular we need to continue discussions on all the areas of north-south cooperation."

Mr Coveney said protecting the peace process was most important.

He said it had created an effective invisible border - 500km long, with 260 road crossings and 2 million cars moving back and forth every month.

Mr Coveney said there was an assumption when the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 that both Ireland and the UK would remain in Europe.

And he said questions remain over how Irish and British citizens can continue to travel freely over the border and across the Irish Sea in the wake of Brexit.

"Ireland is in the uniquely vulnerable position, as a small country, that has an interwoven relationship with the UK, from a trade perspective, from a historic perspective, from a political perspective, and of course we share the responsibility of a peace process on the island of Ireland together also," he said.

"The decision by the UK to leave the European Union has potentially an extraordinarily negative impact on Ireland, and on the island of Ireland."

Mr Barnier, who visited the Irish border earlier this year, described the meeting with Mr Coveney as an enjoyable and constructive working lunch.

He said that all EU member states and institutions are "fully united" with his claim that Ireland's concerns over Brexit were the European Union's concerns.

"At the same time we know that every solution we look at will have to be fully compatible with union law and with the single market," Mr Barnier said.