Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said it could be months until an executive is formed in Northern Ireland after the Assembly election.
He was speaking as counting began in the election, with the first results expected on Friday afternoon.
He said he expected it to be “difficult” to form a powersharing executive.
“Honestly, I think it will be difficult, because this has been a difficult election and indeed we have seen for a number of years now… a lot of polarisation on certain issues within Northern Ireland politics.”
“Of course we have the added complication now of a potential change, if you like, in the pecking order, in terms of the possibility of the nationalist party having the highest percentage of the vote and the highest number of seats.”
He predicted a “long and tense” count on Friday, possibly until the weekend.
Mr Coveney, speaking on RTE radio, was asked about the possibility of the UK Government taking unilateral action against the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The post-Brexit arrangement is fiercely opposed by loyalists and unionists.
On the eve of polling on Wednesday night, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis indicated that a move against the protocol is unlikely to feature in the Queen’s Speech.
Mr Coveney said: “My job and the job of the British Government and the job of the European Commission is to try to find a way of settling the protocol issue.”
He said he spoke directly to Mr Lewis about the issue.
“If the British Government were to unilaterally set aside parts of the protocol, it would cause significant problems, not only in Northern Ireland and Dublin but also across the European Union.”
But he stressed that the Irish and British governments will have to work together to help restore powersharing.
“This isn’t going to be easy and agreements like this don’t come quickly, as we know in Northern Ireland.”
He suggested that brokering an agreement between the parties may be harder this time, compared with the collapse of Stormont in 2017.
“The issues we had to deal with weren’t as complicated as these ones,” he said.
“We have got a lot to do this summer.”
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