MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader Michelle O'Neill said she believes a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) can be done by the end of October to restore the region's power-sharing government.
Unless the two sides can clinch a deal, the British government will be forced to step in to restore direct rule, a move that could destabilize the delicate political balance in the British province.
Sinn Fein and the DUP have failed to reach agreement on reforming the devolved administration since its collapse in January.
"Throughout the Irish peace process we have been through very difficult times and we have been able to find a way forward," O'Neill told Reuters on the sidelines of the Conservative Party Conference in the English city of Manchester.
"We are in intensive negotiations and we will continue to work our way through it. I believe it can be done but obviously we are into a crucial period in the next couple of weeks."
O'Neill said the British government over the past decade had failed to nurture the peace process which ended three decades of sectarian violence, in which over 3,600 died.
"They need to step up to the mark," she said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Conor Humphries)