'Deal is doable' in talks to restore powersharing at Stormont
Talks between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists aimed at saving powersharing at Stormont have "intensified and deepened", the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.
James Brokenshire also welcomed what he characterised as "positive statements" from the rowing parties over the weekend and urged both to convert those words into action.
While both the DUP and Sinn Fein issued statements on Sunday stressing their commitment to restoring a devolved executive, there has been no public indication whether either side has given ground on the roadblocks currently preventing it.
Mr Brokenshire has already warned the region is on a "glide path" to a form of direct rule from Westminster if the long-running impasse that triggered the collapse of powersharing at the start of the year is not resolved by the middle of next month.
The Conservative MP gave his assessment on the state of the troubled negotiation process on Monday.
"I firmly believe a deal is doable with the right intent and focus," said Mr Brokenshire.
"We've obviously seen some more positive statements but it is now about converting that into a deal, converting that into the formation of an executive and I would strongly encourage the parties to continue that intensive process and to bring that about, to make that happen and to see the restoration of devolved government that everyone wants to have and wants to see back in place."
The DUP's refusal to sign off on a Sinn Fein demand for a free-standing piece of legislation that would enshrine statutory protections for Irish speakers is one of the key obstacles preventing the re-establishment of a coalition executive in Belfast.
While the DUP is prepared to countenance legislative protections for Irish as part of a wider piece of legislation that also incorporates the Ulster Scots culture, the party is set against a free-standing Irish language act.
Formal roundtable talks involving the five main Stormont parties and the UK and Irish governments have still not resumed after they were parked for the summer.
Sinn Fein and the DUP are instead engaged in a series of private meetings - discussions that are due to continue this week.
Mr Brokenshire said there had been a change in pace of that bilateral process.
"That has intensified and deepened and I warmly welcome that," he said.
On Sunday, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said he was committed to restoring powersharing and rejected any suggestion his party had given up on Stormont.
In response, DUP MLA Simon Hamilton welcomed as a "step forward" what he described as a "change of tone" from Mr Adams.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said it would be a mistake to suggest they were on the verge of a massive breakthrough, but they continued to work at it.
He said there could only be substantive progress if people moved forward on the basis of a shared future, not on the basis of Sinn Fein demanding that all their wishes be met without respect for other people's point of view.
"We will continue to work at the process of trying to get a government set up for Northern Ireland.
"We think that is in the best interests of Northern Ireland, we are up for that, we would form the government today.
"If others are showing some more flexibility I welcome that, I hope they do that in substantive terms as well."