Talks come to crunch ahead of Thursday's assembly sitting

Simon Coveney hoped the 'heavy lifting' would be completed by Tuesday evening

The talks aimed at restoring devolution will continue today though there is little to suggest they will come to a successful conclusion by Thursday's deadline.

The Stormont assembly has been scheduled to sit on Thursday for the potential election of a first and deputy minister but some observers believe this timetabling has been done as much in hope as in any expectation of a deal.

Last night, a Conservative Party spokesman confirmed that the £1 billion-plus funds pledged as part of the 'confidence and supply' deal with the DUP are not conditional on the restoration of devolution and could be implemented through direct rule.

At Stormont yesterday the parties took part in roundtable talks with the two governments and similar discussions are expected this morning.

One source told The Irish News that the plan was to "wrap things up by the end of the day – one way or another".

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who spent last night in Belfast and will be attending the talks today, said last night that he was hopeful the "heavy lifting" would be finished by close of play today.

"But these things do tend to run on," he said.

"There are some big political issues to be addressed and if we're going to get that done both parties need to be willing to move towards each other's positions to try and accommodate each other."

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said it was best to have an executive in place to oversee the spending of the funds secured from London by Arlene Foster and the DUP.

The Louth TD said any extra money was welcome but added: "We may be able to say well done Arlene, when we have the executive in place."

However, he asked what the price was for the DUP propping up Theresa May's minority government.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said he wanted an executive in place to ensure the £1 billion-plus windfall is "spent properly and for all of our benefit".

"No element of this deal can override the principles or the practice of our hard won devolution settlement," he said.

"Any position which attempts to wrestle power back from a local Executive will be opposed in the strongest possible terms."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann MLA said now that the DUP-Tory deal had been finalised it was time secure agreement in Belfast.

"With the publication of the agreement between the Conservatives and the DUP there can be no excuses for not getting down to business," he said.

"Some hard talking will have to done in the next few days but there`s certainly no more room for grandstanding."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry warned that the additional money for the north from London could be "missed opportunity" if there was no deal to restore devolution.

“The deal makes clear there will be ongoing co-ordination meetings between the DUP and Conservatives – that does raise inevitable political implications, especially as the DUP are committed to delivering the narrow Tory version of Brexit," he said.

"That will now make the obtainment of a special deal for Northern Ireland more difficult."

A Conservative Party spokesman said it and the DUP were committed to reestablishing an executive and wanted the extra funds delivered through Stormont.

"However, if despite our collective efforts it proves impossible to re-establish the executive, the Conservative Party, in signing the agreement, has recognised the case for higher funding for Northern Ireland and the agreement provides a mechanism in the form of the consultative committee by which both parties can agree the funding Northern Ireland needs," the spokesman said.

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