Sinn Fein believes agreement to re-establish the Executive is possible, and has called for a “short, sharp” period of negotiation to achieve this.
In addition a statement from the DUP – issued two minutes after the Sinn Fein one – said efforts to reach an accord have “stepped up” in the past week and are set to continue.
UUP MLA Steve Aiken said he hopes it may be a sign Sinn Fein had “woken up” to the need for a government – but he remains to be convinced.
It had been widely expected that discussions were to resume this week, though there has been scepticism about what they may accomplish – with senior DUP MP Sammy Wilson stating in late August that further talks are pointless and direct rule should kick in.
Yesterday’s statement from DUP leader Arlene Foster said it had “spent a number of days involved in a detailed engagement with [Sinn Fein] to ascertain whether an agreement on the issues before us is possible”.
She added they “intend to continue with a further series of bilaterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached”.
And in a speech yesterday morning, Michelle O’Neill stressed Sinn Fein does want to re-enter the Executive.
She said that “we do believe progress is possible”, and called for “a short, sharp and focused negotiation” to begin immediately.
She said Irish language rights are a central part of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements, that gay marriage too “is at the heart of the current political impasse”, and called for funding to be made available to help clear the backlog of legacy inquests.
UUP chief whip Mr Aiken said it was welcome that the DUP and Sinn Fein “seem to be coordinating activities and engaging”.
“I hope that today’s statement by Michelle O’Neill is an indication that perhaps – just perhaps – Sinn Fein have woken up to the fact that the people of Northern Ireland need a functioning government.”
However, he added he was “not convinced”.
Party colleague Lord Empey said the DUP should make clear where it stands on a stand-alone Irish language act, whilst Jim Allister of the TUV said the “choreography” of the announcements seemed to signal the two main parties “are trying to order up whatever consignment of sticking plaster it would take to put back together the institutions” – but he believes such an effort is doomed.