The momentum created by the visit of a US trade delegation to Northern Ireland should be the spur to restore the Stormont powersharing institutions, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill has said.
Following a meeting with the US business leaders in Belfast, Ms O’Neill said she was determined that the Assembly should come back as a “matter of urgency”.
The delegation of business leaders, led by US special envoy Joe Kennedy, is carrying out engagements over several days across Northern Ireland.
US President Joe Biden promised the delegation when he visited Northern Ireland earlier this year.
Political leaders met the business leaders in Belfast on Thursday.
Ms O’Neill said it was vital to build on the momentum created by the trade visit.
She said: “It is very clear there is certainly a sense of urgency.
“The mood music has been very positive, we should build on that.
“Clearly we want to be in our positions, being in the executive and actually meeting these people as first minister, as ministers around an executive table.”
She added: “I think it acts as a spur and it should act as a spur. The positivity and momentum that we can garner from this delegation is immense.
“We have been speaking all week about the need for political stability. That has been welcomed by the political parties so the natural follow-through should be a restored executive.
“I think the sense of urgency that everyone should feel right now is that this is an opportunity not to be missed.”
Ms O’Neill said she believed a deal to restore Stormont needed to be done in the next couple of weeks.
The Windsor Framework deal was struck by the EU and the UK earlier this year to reform the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, which created internal UK trade barriers and led to the DUP collapsing the Stormont Assembly.
The unionist party has made clear it will not accept a return to devolution until the Government provides further assurances, by way of legislation, over Northern Ireland’s place in the UK internal market.
The powersharing institutions cannot operate without the participation of the largest unionist party.
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said if the DUP were not going to return to government, then the British and Irish governments should enable the return of Stormont.
She said: “I’m not going to be embarrassed on behalf of the DUP. I am ready to do my job.
“It is up to others to allow us to do that. If it is not going to be the DUP going back into government then it needs to be the UK and Irish governments enabling those of us who are willing to go back into government to be able to do that.”
She added: “This is an incredible week, it is an incredible opportunity but imagine how much amplified that opportunity would be if we had a functioning executive and government at Stormont.”
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said it was embarrassing to be meeting the business leaders without a functioning government in Northern Ireland.
He added: “We need political stability. Political stability will help support our businesses and those businesses will support our economy and our economy will support our people.
“It is a no-brainer for me. I think we will get there but I wish we were there now.”
He added: “From those on the outside looking in, the US delegation, they are looking at us and saying why don’t you just get this sorted because it is clear that we are going to end up with the government, so why don’t you just do it now?”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it was time for political courage from the DUP to bring powersharing back.
He said: “I have been calling for the DUP to go back into government since the day they left. I don’t think this ever solves any problems. The Windsor Framework is a good deal out of a very bad Brexit.
“I do think we are moving in the right direction around the formation of a government. The bottom line is there is very little left to talk about. We know the shape of the Windsor Framework, we know there are ways of dealing with some of these problems.
“We also know that businesses are telling us there has been a very smooth operation of these new arrangements. I don’t think there is much left to argue about. Now is the time for political courage.”