Parties 'agreed' over reduction in MLAs and departments
There is a growing consensus at the Stormont talks that the number of MLAs should be reduced from 108 to 80, and that the number of Stormont departments could be cut, it has emerged.
This week the multi-party talks are focused on the legacy of Troubles violence, parading and potential reform of the political institutions.
A leaked Northern Ireland Office talks discussion paper revealed that on the issue of reducing each Assembly constituency by one MLA "there is wide agreement that this should happen, but parties are not yet in agreement as to when".
It added: "There is general agreement among parties that the number of departments should be reduced - with an emerging consensus of between eight and 10, including OFMDFM and DOJ. Any changes to the number and functions of departments must be agreed as soon as possible and no later than the end of December if they are to be implemented in time for the 2016 Assembly election".
However, Sinn Fein last night said none of this represented the party's views. "In reality this leaked paper represents pro-unionist wishful thinking within the NIO," said Conor Murphy.
The parties are also trying to make headway on introducing facilities and resources for those who wish to form an opposition, although the document notes there is a "lack of clarity" here.
NI Secretary Theresa Villiers said yesterday's meetings were "positive and constructive". "All parties continue to engage, but there are still big differences of view between them on some very significant issues," she added.