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Chris Heaton-Harris says his pledge to call fresh NI election should not be a surprise
The Northern Ireland Secretary has defended plans to call another election if Stormont is not restored by next week saying that elections are "never a waste of time and money".
Chris Heaton-Harris said the plans were a "down payment for democracy".
The deadline to restore power-sharing is 00:01 on 28 October or legally, a fresh poll must be called.
In that event, a poll could happen on 15 December and could cost about £6.5m, according to the NI Electoral Office.
The Northern Ireland Executive has not fully functioned since February, when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) pulled its first minister out of office in protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking to BBC News NI, Mr Heaton-Harris said: "This is what we do in democracy and elections cost money, but it's not down to me, the people who can reform the executive are MLAs who were elected just under six months ago."
He denied that his repeated promises to hold the election if the deadline expires next week were a "bluff".
"As it stands, I am obliged to call an election and I'd like to think that'll provide some certainty at the end of that process," he added.
"I would like to think in that time, people of Northern Ireland would let their legislators know they want them to get on with their jobs.
"I'd like to think if politicians hit the doorsteps for an election, that message will get across."
Questioned as to whether he was trying to avoid a U-turn to protect his political credibility, the secretary of state said: "I don't worry about my own credibility, I'm very happy to be judged for what I do."
Asked if cutting the salaries of MLAs should have been considered instead, Mr Heaton-Harris said he "wasn't convinced it would have brought people back to the executive".
However, he held out the prospect of invoking a pay cut at some point if the impasse continues.
"I'm minded to look at that if the executive isn't reformed and we go into the election.
"I promise you I will say more in good time – I don't think that's a threat, I have the option to do it and I'll be looking at that."
Mr Heaton-Harris said if an election was called, he would also take steps to pass a budget for Northern Ireland through Parliament in November, to ensure money can still flow through Stormont departments.
"That will be happening concurrently with elections," he said.
The secretary of state added that he would provide permanent secretaries of Stormont departments with additional powers to take decisions, in the absence of Stormont ministers who will cease to hold office if the 28 October deadline expires.
Mr Heaton-Harris met the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday.
Mr Coveney said both the UK and Irish governments wanted to avoid an "unnecessary election," warning the context of an electoral campaign could make it more difficult for London and Brussels to strike a deal over the protocol.
He added that avoiding an election rested with Northern Ireland's political parties, in particular the DUP, as he urged all sides to come together and form an executive before the deadline.
Minister @simoncoveney and I agree that the best outcome for Northern Ireland is for the Parties to restore the Executive and avoid a winter election.
But, if no Executive is formed by 28th October, I am required by law to call one. pic.twitter.com/4c9SDYNMvg
"Let me reassure you that the EU is absolutely listening to and willing to respond comprehensively to the concerns that have been raised by the business community and also by unionist representatives," Mr Coveney told a peace-building event in north Belfast.
However Mr Coveney said he did not think anything substantive would emerge before next week's deadline, given the current situation in Westminster.
The protocol is the deal between the UK and EU which keeps NI in the EU's single market for goods, avoiding the need for a hard border with the Irish Republic after Brexit.
A DUP delegation, which included party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, met Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday afternoon.
Speaking after the meeting, a DUP spokesman said they had discussed the current issues relating to the protocol.
"We reiterated our position on the need to restore Northern Ireland's place within the United Kingdom so that we can have fully functioning political institutions in Northern Ireland," he added.
Mr Heaton-Harris said he was still "quite hopeful" that an executive would be reformed in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next April.
"Talks on the protocol are ongoing and are happening in good faith, I'm a glass-half-full man and I truly believe that can be done.
"That would take away one of the issues around why people aren't heading back into the executive, but I'd like to think there are lots of other very good reasons why an executive needs to be reformed."
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