DUP having “meaningful engagement” with the UK government over the Brexit issues but breakthrough elusive as talks continue
But leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson reiterated that his party needed to see legislation that would underpin Northern Ireland's ability to trade with the rest of the UK in the aftermath of leaving the European Union.
Sinn Fein and the Alliance Party have urged the DUP to return to Stormont as the province is beset by significant challenges, including around finances and public services.
Senior civil servants are continuing to run government departments in the absence of elected ministers.
Potential revenue-raising measures were among items on the agenda at the latest meeting between the parties and the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service Jayne Brady at Stormont Castle on Thursday.
Speaking after the meeting, Sir Jeffrey said they had discussed issues they wanted to take to the Treasury and the elements of a future programme for government.
But he stressed that the discussions were “tentative” and relied on “progress with the government” around post-Brexit trade arrangements.
He also slammed a suggestion by Irish premier Leo Varadkar last week that if Stormont was not restored by the autumn there could be talks about potential alternatives as “unhelpful”, adding: “We're not planning for failure. We want to get this right.”
Asked about his party's engagement with the UK government, Sir Jeffrey said they were “making progress”.
“There is now meaningful engagement. The government is responding to the points that we had put forward in our paper, that we presented to them some time ago,” he said.
“So I think we are now making progress, we are now getting down to addressing the issues that need to be resolved.”
Sir Jeffrey said his party wanted to see legislation that would “underpin Northern Ireland's ability to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom, and to do so in a way that ensures our businesses have the access they need to that market, that fundamentally important market”.
The DUP has been accused of facing internal divisions over returning to Stormont.
Sinn Fein MLA Caoimhe Archibald appealed to the DUP to “set aside party divisions” and return to Stormont.
She described yesterday's discussions with Ms Brady as “useful ... but absolutely no substitute for an executive”.
“We should have a first minister, a deputy first minister, ministers in departments working hard on all of the challenges,” she said.
“I would appeal again to the DUP to put aside their internal party wranglings, to put the public first and to get back around the table so that we can collectively work on behalf of the people that we represent.
“We also need the British government to work proactively with the Irish government in terms of getting a plan to get the executive restored.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said it had been a “very sobering discussion” with Ms Brady, describing Northern Ireland as being in “an unprecedented position in terms of its public finances and public services”.
“With every passing day we do not have an executive in place, that situation becomes more dire,” she said.
“We're in a very difficult situation where there are lots of moving pieces, I think there are lots of ideas where there is consensus. We know things like childcare are a major issue, those are things that we would all want to tackle, issues like waiting lists that we would all prioritise, but to be able to draw up a meaningful programme for government, we need to relate it to a budget ... and we won't get clarity on that until we have clarity on when the executive is going to be formed.”
Meanwhile, UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt said if Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris had asked for more information on potential revenue raisers to pressure the DUP to return to Stormont, it was unlikely to work.
“I'm not in the mind of the secretary of state but it seems to me if you're going to try and threaten and bully people, that's a wrong tactic in this country,” he said.