James Brokenshire will not step aside for post-election talks
The Northern Ireland Secretary has rejected calls for him to step aside as chair of cross-party talks after the assembly election.
Sinn Féin and the SDLP have claimed his recent comments on the legacy of the Troubles mean he cannot be an honest broker in negotiations.
But Mr Brokenshire said he is very much looking forward to the discussions.
Voters go to the polls on 2 March after the power-sharing executive collapsed over a botched energy scheme.
Questioned about whether it would be useful to introduce an independent chair for the legacy elements of the talks, the secretary of state said the focus should be on using the three-week period after the election to get the Stormont Executive back up and running.
In an article for the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Brokenshire wrote that there was a “disproportionate focus” on the investigation of Troubles killings carried out by former soldiers and police officers.
Since then, the PSNI Legacy Branch has released figures showing that killings by the Army account for only about 30% of its workload.
Asked whether these figures contradicted his view, the secretary of state insisted that the overall framework for dealing with the past was not as balanced as it should be.
He said one objective of any future talks would be to build a system which works.
Mr Brokenshire said he stood by comments ruling out special status for Northern Ireland within the EU.
However, he added that the Brexit negotiations would take into account special factors such as the border, the single electricity market and cross-border health care.
Asked if he was likely to be in charge of Northern Ireland via a return to direct rule by the summer, the secretary of state insisted that he was not contemplating anything other than a continuation of devolution.
Source: BBC News – Northern Ireland