Sinn Fein has reaffirmed its readiness to rejoin the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland ahead of a final push to resurrect the Stormont Assembly.
However, the DUP appears to remain firm that it will not participate until the government in London takes action to address unionists’ concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol.
MPs will return to Stormont at midday in a last-ditch attempt to restore the executive before a new Assembly election is called.
The session will see a bid to elect a new president – a precondition before an executive can be appointed – but that bid is doomed as the DUP will use its veto to block it.
The special sitting comes hours before the deadline to call another election.
Sinn Fein chairwoman Mary-Lou McDonald said “common sense” and “good will” were needed.
“The Assembly will meet today, we will again invite our Unionist colleagues to enter the executive to secure government for all, regardless of their political opinion, to make progress and to protect the people frankly during what will be a very difficult winter,” she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“If unionism doesn’t do it, we face an election. Just so we are clear if after this election we still have this deadlock, this refusal of trade unionism to accept change in Ireland, but also to accept the democratic outcome of an election, and if there is not of institutions, so we’re not looking at a direct return to power from London, we’re actually looking at a partnership agreement and joint authority involving Dublin and the London government.
But DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly has insisted Northern Ireland Protocol is the stumbling block to reviving Stormont Assembly.
“I think most people will wonder what an election will bring. I think it’s disappointing that the Secretary of State instead of working with his colleagues to try to resolve the protocol is the roadblock to restoring the institutions, it’s a roadblock for good reason,” she told BBC Radio Ulster.
“We’ve been advocating to try to fix the issues for three years now, it hasn’t been done. Instead of going on and doing this, the secretary of state is pushing everyone for an election.
Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was “regrettable” that people in Northern Ireland could face another election.
“I don’t know for sure what decision will be made by the secretary of state,” Mr Varadkar said.
“However it is expected that there will be new elections in Northern Ireland, it is impossible to predict the outcome of an election.
“As things stand, the results will be much the same as the last election, with no clear majority for Combined Unionists or Combined Nationalists. Sinn Fein will probably have the biggest party again.
“I think there will be a clear majority of MPs, who don’t want the protocol scrapped, re-elected and that needs to be taken into account.
“But you can never predict with certainty what will happen in an election. But I regret that this happens. This happens because one party has decided not to participate, and that is the DUP.
“I think it’s very unfortunate. If this happens, we will deal with the situation as it develops.
He added: ‘I would like to hear the voice of the DUP in the Northern Ireland government, but that is not possible at the moment.’
A six-month legislative deadline to form an administration expires shortly after midnight early Friday.
If no ministerial executive is in place by then, the UK government bears the legal responsibility to call another election.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has repeatedly warned he will call a Stormont ballot if Friday’s deadline passes without a devolved executive being formed.
Mr Heaton-Harris met leaders of Northern Ireland’s political parties on Wednesday and reiterated the importance of restoring the executive.
He said: “Since becoming Secretary of State, I have always been clear that if the executive is not formed by October 28, I will call an election.
“Time is running out and the people of Northern Ireland deserve locally elected decision-makers and an executive capable of responding to the issues facing individuals, families and communities across Northern Ireland at this difficult time.
“We are clear that the people deserve accountable devolved government and that was my message to party leaders.”
The DUP refused to engage with Belfast’s devolved institutions following the May Assembly elections, meaning it was not possible to form an executive.
The party’s boycott is part of a campaign to oppose the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol and the DUP says it will not return to power-sharing until decisive action is taken to remove economic barriers of the protocol on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The government is committed to securing changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed national legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower ministers to abandon the arrangements without Brussels’ approval.
During Stormont’s recall, MPs are due to debate a motion, tabled by Sinn Fein in consultation with the Alliance party, which will focus on the cost of living crisis, instability in Westminster and the lack of government decentralized to Stormont.
The first unsuccessful attempt to elect a new president took place in May after the election.
The Assembly has been recalled twice since, most recently in August.
While Northern Ireland does not have a first or deputy first minister, other ministers who served in the previous term remained in office after the May election, although they were significantly restricted in the decisions they can make.
If Friday’s deadline passes without a full executive having been established, the remaining ministers will cease to hold office.