Northern Ireland’s new Secretary of State held a series of separate meetings with the five main parties at Stormont today.
Julian Smith spent time with senior members of the DUP and UUP as well as Sinn Fein, Alliance and SDLP.
Speaking after the meeting, the UUP’s Doug Beattie said: “He does need time to put his feet under the table, but he doesn’t have a lot of time, he doesn’t have weeks, he can’t sit there and pontificate about what his next move is.
“He needs to ramp up the talks process and give a very clear structure to that talks process, and he needs to give us a direction of travel, which we have been sadly lacking over the last few months and weeks.
“We made it absolutely clear to him that no matter what his relationship is with the DUP, he cannot be a sop to their tantrums and cannot be meek and mild in front of Sinn Fein’s intransigence. He needs to bang their hands together.”
Mr Beattie added: “What he cannot do is ignore the smaller parties and think he’s going to bounce us at the very end of this process and expect us to jump in.
“There is an issue of governance and an issue of transparency, and we want to see those addressed properly.
“As Secretary of State he needs to be proactive and, if he is not, he will fall in exactly the same way as the last Secretary of State fell.”
Sinn Fein also held a meeting with Mr Smith which lasted about an hour.
Speaking afterwards, Mary Lou McDonald said: “We have stepped through all of the issues with him and obviously the outstanding rights issues and the issues that need to be resolved to ensure that the institutions can be restored, and that, crucially, we can deliver inclusive, sustainable and good government for every citizen living in this part of Ireland.
“He is aware of the issues, he is aware that they have been well rehearsed. He’s aware that this process of talks and negotiations has, to use his term, ebbed and flowed.
“He’s also aware that it needs to pick up momentum, that it can’t go on forever.
“He has committed that he will deal with all of the parties on the basis of equality and impartiality.”
Mrs McDonald added: “We have challenged him on the relationship between the Tories and the DUP, and the next round of confidence and supply. We have said to him very clearly that that relationship has poisoned the water here and has conspired to keep the institutions down.
“I think his commitment to deal even-handedly will be tested in the coming weeks. We don’t need a ‘yes’ man.”