Talks to restore Stormont powersharing are set to enter an intensified phase of face-to-face negotiations between party leaders, the UK and Irish governments have indicated.
Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said they will recommend to Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a new set-piece process gets under way at Stormont next week.
The move comes after the latest roundtable meeting of the governments and five main parties at Stormont House in Belfast.
Mrs Bradley said: “I’ll be recommending that we now move into a very intensive period of talks at leadership level to make sure that we can address the issues that remain.
“I am positive that there is the right attitude and there is the right will there, but I think it would be wrong for me to do anything other than to be clear that there are still significant challenges that still remain.”
Tanaiste Simon Coveney said there was “momentum” in the talks process.
“Certainly my recommendation to the taoiseach will be that we should now intensify the discussions, make them much more direct and much more political for the next couple of weeks in an effort to try to turn what has been a good process into a series of decisions that can get a basis for the re-establishment of an Executive – that’s ultimately what we are about,” he said.
“I think all the parties are up for that and I think certainly that was the indication today and there was some good blunt discussion, I think, around that because there needs to be an appetite here within the parties to make this work, because it’s going to involve compromise and it’s going to involve accommodation with each other.”
Mr Coveney said there were “awkward issues” to resolve.
“But they are not insurmountable,” he added.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said agreement was possible.
“Now we are really into the focused intense period and we are looking forward to engaging in that,” she said.
“I think the window is quite short because once we get to the summer we know that other pressures will come to bear so therefore we are up for trying to work intensively to try to find a way forward.
“We have duty now to come forward and to try to find a way forward.”
Mrs Foster expressed confidence that the talks could reach a different conclusion to previous failed initiatives.
“I think this is for real. I think people are very much engaged,” she said.