By Jonathan McCambridge, PA
Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O’Neill has told the UK’s new Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris that people in the North “desperately” need an Executive.
The pair held talks in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, before a planned meeting with the DUP later on Thursday.
Ms O’Neill said she also stressed to the new minister that the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol is “here to stay”.
The powersharing institutions at Stormont are currently not operating due to the DUP’s protest against the protocol.
Mr Heaton-Harris said the restoration of the executive is his priority, and he plans to meet with the other party leaders in the coming days.
He did not take questions from journalists, but said: “I am looking forward to delivering enough pressure so we can get the Executive up and running, solve the problems of the protocol, and some of the more useful domestic things I can do to help people here in their everyday lives.”
Ms O’Neill, Sinn Féin’s Stormont leader, welcomed his comments on his determination to see the executive restored, but said the “proof of the pudding will be in the eating”.
She added: “Time will tell if there is a change of tact from this new Tory leadership.
“I took the opportunity to make it very clear to him what my priorities are. Number one, getting an executive up and running again.
“The public desperately demand that, they need that to help them through this cost-of-living nightmare that people are facing.
“I have said to him that four months post-election, the outcome of that election has yet to be respected and people are still being denied access to a locally-elected executive that could help them through this period.
“I have also made it very clear that people are struggling right now, people are really worried about how they are going to heat their homes, how they are going to feed their kids.
“They need our help and I want to be in an executive, working with others to get support directly out to people.
“We made the case strongly that this situation is no longer tolerable, they need to stop pandering to the DUP.
“The DUP need to get round the executive table with the rest of us and support people.
“The other issue I pressed home to him is that the protocol is here to stay.
“We need an agreed way forward, we do not need more unilateral action, what we need is a negotiated way forward within the framework of the protocol.”