DUP and Sinn Fein step up efforts to break Stormont stalemate
- Progress possible: O'Neill
- Talks on if agreement achievable: Foster
Michelle O'Neill and Arlene Foster have pledged to work together to resolve the issues which have held up government in Northern Ireland saying negations have stepped up in recent days.
Sinn Fein leader O'Neill has said progress is possible and her party had been involved in intensive talks with the Democratic Unionists over past days.
DUP leader Foster said her party had "stepped up engagement" with the republican party to "ascertain whether an agreement on the issues before us is possible".
Her statement stopped short of saying progress was possible.
It comes after Michelle O'Neill in a speech on Wednesday repeated her party's stance that there would be no return to the Executive in the absence of an Irish language act and there was progress on the equality agenda on matters such as same-sex marriage and for the British government to provide funding for legacy inquests.
She again called for a "short, sharp, focused" talks process.
The Sinn Fein northern leader said: "The route map to establishing the executive is clear, it’s reasonable and it’s achievable. Implement previous agreements, deliver equality for all and embrace genuine partnership government.
"That’s when we will establish a sustainable executive."
In a statement released as Mrs O'Neill was giving her address, Arlene Foster said meetings would continue to determine if agreement can be found.
The DUP leader said: "At the end of the formal talks process at Stormont Castle I indicated that we would continue discussions with Sinn Fein as well as the other parties.
"We have stepped up that engagement with Sinn Fein over the last week during which time we spent a number of days involved in a detailed engagement with them to ascertain whether an agreement on the issues before us is possible.
"We intend to continue with a further series of bi-laterals with all of the other parties to determine whether agreement can be reached in the short time available."
In her speech at a Sinn Fein conference, Michelle O'Neill rejected claims her party did not want to be involved in government at Stormont as "absurd".
She said: "Sinn Fein wants to bring about fundamental societal change North and South. This therefore requires us to be in government in both Dublin and Belfast."
The MLA said it was time for a formal negotiations process to begin immediately.
She said: "So many challenges remain and we in the Sinn Fein leadership will continue to play our part to make every effort to find a political solution to the political crisis that exists.
"However, any attempt to put the cart before the horse and form an Executive while at the same time having a parallel negotiation would guarantee failure from the outset. A new Executive would be hamstrung from the beginning, so let’s get it right.
"In the past fortnight I have met with all the party leaders and both governments.
"And the Sinn Fein and DUP leaderships have for more than a week now been engaged in intensified dialogue to determine whether political progress is possible.
"We do believe progress is possible and are therefore ready to re-engage in formal negotiations together, and with the other parties and both governments, to try and reach agreement in a short, sharp and focused negotiation.
"This process should begin immediately."
Belfast Telegraph Digital