Britain will directly set a budget for Northern Ireland after Irish nationalists Sinn Fein and British unionists DUP fail to agree on a power-sharing executive.
Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein said on Wednesday that its talks with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) aimed at re-establishing a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland had failed.
The failure of the parties to agree led the British government to begin the process of directly imposing an annual budget for Northern Ireland for the first time in a decade.
The move is a major step towards a return to direct rule from London, which could destabilise the delicate political balance in Northern Ireland, creating a major headache for British Prime Minister Theresa May as she negotiates Britain's exit from the European Union.
"Sinn Fein is disappointed that after the last few weeks of negotiations that it has ended in failure," Sinn Fein's leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, told journalists. "We did our best to be flexible."
She called on the British and Irish governments "to act urgently to deliver equality" in Northern Ireland following the failure of the assembly to deliver it, citing the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace deal.
Britain's minister for Northern Ireland James Brokenshire said, however, that talks would continue and that if an power-sharing executive was formed, the budget process could be handed back.
"While important progress has been made in discussions between the DUP and Sinn Fein towards the establishment of an executive, it has not yet been possible for the parties to reach agreement," Brokenshire told journalists in Belfast.
"I am, therefore, now taking forward the necessary steps that would enable a budget bill to be introduced at Westminster at the appropriate moment in order to protect the delivery of public services in Northern Ireland," he added.
He also said he would take advice as to whether the salaries of the deputies in the Northern Ireland devolved parliament should be cut while there is no executive, a move that would put additional pressure on politicians to reach agreement.
He said such a move would require legislation in the British parliament at Westminster.
The DUP and Sinn Fein have shared power for the past decade in a system created following a 1998 peace deal that ended three decades of violence in the province.
Sinn Fein pulled out in January, complaining it was not being treated as an equal partner.
Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers on Wednesday everyone wanted to see an agreement to restore Northern Ireland's devolved government.
"We all want to see a Northern Ireland executive restored," she said.