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Stormont needs credible structures

Although previous speculation about the return of the Stormont power-sharing structures has regularly proved wide of the mark over the last year, there are growing indications that a deal may finally be emerging.

Some reports have said that agreement is possible before the end of the week, with confirmation last night that British prime minister Theresa May will join the negotiations later today.

While divisions between the main parties undoubtedly still exist, the reality is that they were always capable of being resolved.

Making progress over disputes linked to the Irish language, human rights and legacy cases has not been easy but the main elements seem to be falling into place.

Sinn Féin's insistence that the DUP leader Arlene Foster's return as first minister was unacceptable before the completion of the official inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal has also apparently been dropped.

What is more important is that a basic level of respect can be achieved between the key figures in the new executive, if and when it is formed.

The huge difficulty with its predecessor was that a range of aspirational statements and PR photographs could not disguise the huge antipathy which frequently existed between the coalition partners.

It may have been the RHI debacle which ultimately collapsed the administration but it was clear that it had been built on poor foundations in the first place.

The health and education sectors, as well as the state of our economy and the enormous threats presented by Brexit, all urgently require the input of ministers who can work together constructively on behalf of all sections of society.

Restoring Stormont is a priority but ordinary members of the public can only hope that the arrangements have a wider credibility which was missing in the recent past.

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