Renewed efforts on reaching a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein to unblock the Stormont stalemate are expected as the Assembly today returned from its Halloween holiday.
While contacts have continued over recent weeks, a more intensive attempt to achieve a comprehensive compromise is being anticipated.
There appears to be increasing optimism that the two parties can make sufficient progress this side of the the Assembly Christmas recess.
Details of the deal, which would include the devolution of policing and justice, are being kept a closely guarded secret but progress is reportedly being made.
The atmosphere has also been improved after the relatively peaceful passing off of the armed forces homecoming march in Belfast and linked protests, which Secretary of State Shaun Woodward has hailed as evidence of the “new Northern Ireland”.
“It is incredibly important to recognise the achievement of yesterday,” he said. “We are not looking at headlines about violence on the streets of Belfast.”
His comments came as Northern Ireland Manufacturing, which represents more than 500 manufacturers, today called on the Stormont Executive to meet “now” to tackle the economic downturn.
Chairman Michael Wightman said: “There is growing frustration and anger amongst our members that, at a time when other governments are working night and day to bolster their economies, ours isn’t meeting.
“We understand there are political issues to be resolved, but this is a time of crisis and we would call on all sides to show the leadership we need by parking their differences until the economy is under control.”
Mr Wightman, of Salmor Industries which produces telecoms engineering products, said the present stalemate — which reaches 140 days this week — had prevented the Assembly from investing in major capital and regeneration projects.
Ulster Unionists, meanwhile, were today tabling a motion requiring the Executive to meet under the rules of the pledge of office. Party leader Sir Reg Empey said: “There is growing criticism from all sections of the business, farming, planning, retail and manufacturing communities. Public opinion is appalled by the present stagnation. The media is holding all of us up to ridicule.”
UU Assembly deputy leader Danny Kennedy was also due to ask First Minister Peter Robinson in the Assembly this afternoon what emergency procedures exist to cope with the “inability of the Executive to meet since June” — although time may run out before the question is reached.
Mr Robinson helped fuel the more hopeful speculation, however, after telling his weekend party conference that a package of economic measures to alleviate short-term hardship and boost the construction industry could be put to the Assembly in a few weeks time.
He also outlined some of the issues, including a resolution of the parades issue involving an end to the Parades Commission, a reform of the Stormont system moving away from mandatory coalition and a reduction in Government departments, which he regards as “unfinished business.
“I hope that those who have focussed on the devolution of policing and justice will be keen to see our outstanding issues resolved as well,” the DUP leader added.