Progress to resolve the crisis threatening Northern Ireland’s political institutions is being made, the DUP’s Peter Robinson has insisted.
Although he declined to be drawn on details of discussions with Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, Mr Robinson said he was optimistic substantive talks to save Stormont’s devolved Assembly could start early next week.
He said: “I am an optimist by nature. I believe that there is a way through.”
The mandatory coalition Executive in Belfast is teetering on the verge of collapse following last month’s murder of former IRA member Kevin McGuigan.
Police said current members of the IRA were involved in shooting the 53-year-old father-of-nine in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard “Jock” Davison in Belfast three months earlier.
The disclosures about the IRA have heaped pressure on Sinn Fein to explain why the police assess the supposedly defunct paramilitary organisation is still in existence.
The UUP has quit the faltering administration and the DUP has pulled four of its five ministers out with both parties demanding that action is taken against paramilitarism before they enter into cross-party round-table discussions.
Sinn Fein insists the IRA has gone away and has accused the two unionist parties of contriving a crisis for electoral gain.
On Tuesday Ms Villiers told the House of Commons “serious consideration” had to be given to establishing a new body to monitor paramilitary activity but stopped short of outlining definitive steps to crack down on remaining terror structures.
Mr Robinson claimed the status of paramilitary groups should be examined.
He added: “I have to take my evidence from people in the security forces. I can listen to the chief constable with one ear and Martin McGuinness in the other ear but at the end of the day you know who I am going to believe? I am going to believe the official, intelligence based report that I get either from the chief constable or from somebody else who has looked at the files and is aware of the intelligence.
“When the chief constable tells me that IRA people were involved and says the IRA is still in being I take the chief constable at his word...
“I think there is good cause for us to have a detailed evaluation of where the various paramilitary groups are at this time.”
The UUP also met with the Secretary of State at Stormont House earlier but declined to comment on what was said.
Stephen Farry from the cross community Alliance Party Ministers said the current political stalemate could not continue indefinitely.
Meanwhile, SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell said people were “fed up”.
He said: “People are fed up with talks about talks, and rightly so.
“The governments should be working through this - they must not give into demands or turn a blind eye in the face of denial.”
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also struck a more optimistic note about the potential of cross-party talks proceeding next week after he emerged from meetings with the British and Irish governments.
“I am hopeful that everybody involved in this process will recognise the importance of turning up for the talks on Monday, so we can hit the ground running, dealing with all of the issues that represent a challenge for us,” he said.
Mr McGuinness said there was “no guarantee” round-table discussions would begin on Monday but he indicated progress had been made toward that goal at today’s meetings.
The republican veteran said he was also convinced that, privately, both unionist parties accepted Sinn Fein’s commitment to peace.
“If the unionist parties were honest, whatever they say publicly about Sinn Fein, I believe that privately they have no reservations whatsoever about our commitment to peace and democracy.
“So we can watch the outworking of the joust that goes on (between the UUP and DUP) and the jockeying for position, but behind the scenes (I am) absolutely convinced that both unionist parties would not have been in these institutions for the last eight years if they didn’t believe I was, and the party that I represent, if they believed we were not committed to peace and democracy.”
Mr McGuinness said he and Mr Robinson continued to meet “all the time” despite the crisis.
In regard to the potential of a new monitoring mechanism, Mr McGuinness said society needed more than a body which made statements about criminal activity - he said what was required was action from police north and south of the border against those armed groups that still do exist.
He said he would enter talks with a “good heart” and with a “positive and constructive” approach.
In a tactical move, the DUP this evening re-nominated its resigned ministers back in to their jobs, only for them to quit again almost immediately.
If the party had not taken the step within seven days of last week’s mass walkout then the portfolios would have been allocated to other parties.
An on-going circle of re-nominating within a week, and resigning again, will mean the posts will remain effectively vacant until the DUP decide otherwise.
It is understood the DUP ministers signed off on some pressing departmental business in the period they briefly resumed their roles.