Arlene Foster has issued a de facto invitation to the SDLP and UUP to return to the Stormont Executive if devolution is restored.
In comments which contrast significantly with the attitude of both the DUP and Sinn Féin when the smaller parties chose to enter opposition in 2016, the DUP leader promised changes to how they would be treated in any future administration.
After years of the smaller parties complaining that they were shut out by the dominant Stormont parties – who in turn accused their smaller rivals of leaking while in government – the DUP and Sinn were dismissive of the decision to form an opposition, suggesting it would make their job of governing simpler.
In fact, the Executive lasted little more than eight months and the opposition harried the two big parties in the weeks prior to the RHI scandal leading to Sinn Féin’s walk-out.
On Saturday, Mrs Foster said: “In any new Northern Ireland administration, and during talks that might bring one about, I want all parties to have their mandates respected.
“I will encourage the full involvement of all parties capable of holding ministerial office, and want their contribution considered and acted upon, on its merits.
“The DUP will step up its engagement with the secretary of state and with all the other parties to chart a way forward.”
Mrs Foster also admitted that Stormont had been far less productive than the DUP and Sinn Féin had claimed at the time.
Although she said that “history will clearly show what we achieved in that decade was so much more than what had preceded it”, Mrs Foster accepted that “on health, we prepared more plans for reform than actual reforms we ever implemented”.
The former first minister added: “We cannot disguise the fact too many of the big decisions were avoided, or started but never finished.”