Theresa Villiers gives upbeat assessment of talks to resolve Stormont impasse
Stormont parties involved in talks to save Northern Ireland's crisis-hit power sharing institutions are "showing a willingness to find a solution", the Government has said.
Three days into negotiations that are set to last weeks, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers provided a relatively upbeat assessment, but stressed it remained "immensely difficult" to find consensus.
"The first few days make me think that the parties are looking at this with seriousness," she said.
"There is a willingness to try to find a solution and recognition that it is essential a solution is found."
The devolved Assembly has been thrown into disarray following the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan last month.
The 53-year-old father of nine was shot dead in Belfast in a suspected revenge attack for the murder of former IRA commander Gerard "Jock" Davison, 47, three months earlier.
Detectives believe some of Mr Davison's associates suspected Mr McGuigan of involvement in his shooting.
A police assessment that individual members of the IRA were involved in the McGuigan murder prompted unionists to remove all ministers but one from the coalition Executive, claiming Sinn Fein was inextricably linked to the supposedly defunct republican terror group.
Sinn Fein has rejected the accusations and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has challenged political rivals making claims about Sinn Fein links to criminality to "put up or shut up".
Prior to the McGuigan murder, the future viability of the administration had already been in doubt as a consequence of long-standing budgetary disputes, with the row over the non-implementation of the UK Government's welfare reforms the most vexed.
The fallout from the murder and the other political wrangles are all on the table for discussion during the talks process at Stormont House.
Ms Villiers has convened the negotiations with the five main Stormont parties. Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan is also involved.
"I think I have to say they have gone well so far," said Ms Villiers.
"I think there is recognition there is real urgency now to get these questions resolved so I think that is helpful that parties know the next two to three weeks are going to be absolutely pivotal."