Northern Ireland faced its biggest political crisis in more than a decade on Thursday with the British government set to be asked to suspend the province's power-sharing administration, after a murder police said was linked to the disbanded IRA.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was gravely concerned about the situation in the province which is one of the most serious political disputes since a 1998 peace deal between Catholic Irish nationalists who want the province to unite with Ireland and their Protestant rivals.
After a senior member of Sinn Fein was arrested on Wednesday in relation to an IRA-linked murder, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) said its ministers would resign immediately if its call for an adjournment was not backed or London did not agree to suspend parliament.
However, the DUP, the province's largest pro-British party, failed to win support from rival parties for an adjournment.
"The PM is gravely concerned about the situation... we want to see all politicians in Northern Ireland working together to build a better future for the country," said Cameron's spokeswoman, who speaks on condition her name is not used.
The 1998 power-sharing deal ended three decades of tit-for-tat killings between Catholic nationalists and pro-British Protestants that killed 3,600, but the forced coalition has struggled amid intensifying sectarian bickering in recent years.
The last time the parliament was suspended in 2002, it took five years for the rival parties from the two communities to agree to sit again.
"I hope that both (Britain and Ireland) support the integrity of these institutions and make it clear that they will not suspend the institutions," Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told reporters after the DUP's motion was voted down, describing the coalition as fledgling and difficult but "still better than a war institution".
Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, said earlier this week that a suspension was not something London thought was right to do in the "current circumstances".
The fate of the grand coalition has been hanging in the balance since the province's junior pro-British Ulster Unionist party quit last month after reports that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) might still be active.
If the DUP was to leave, the governance of Northern Ireland would likely revert to London while elections potentially take place amid the crisis talks which began this week.
Police suspect members of the IRA, a paramilitary group that is supposed to have disbanded under a 1998 peace deal, were involved in the Aug. 12 shooting of Kevin McGuigan, prompting the crisis talks.
Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA during three decades of armed conflict against British rule in Northern Ireland, said on Wednesday that its regional chairman Bobby Storey was one of three men arrested in relation to the murder and that they would be shocked if he was charged.
They remain in police custody.