Northern Ireland

Theresa Villiers says interparty talks reached turning point

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Media captionSpeaking to BBC News NI's Mark Devenport, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she was encouraged by the latest negotiations

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers has said the session of the interparty talks on Wednesday may have been a turning point.

She had previously said the chances of a deal were slim, but she said she was encouraged by the latest negotiations.

Speaking at a summit in the Isle of Man, Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Enda Kenny said he and David Cameron planned to visit Northern Ireland.

He said his government's view on the talks remained optimistic.

Ms Villiers and Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan reported back to Mr Cameron and Mr Kenny respectively on progress two months in to the talks process.

"I have to say his report indicates that the parties in Northern Ireland have been very positively disposed towards, first of all, the talks and, secondly, making progress in respect of three difficult issues - flags, the past and parades," Mr Kenny said.

He said both he and Mr Cameron would visit Northern Ireland before Christmas.

Ms Villiers said: "Obviously my assessments earlier in the week were extremely downbeat.

"I think they are the sort of comments perhaps the Northern Ireland media isn't used to hearing from me or previous secretaries of state.

"I think it was genuinely a turning point this week. I think the parties were very clear that they wanted this process to succeed.

"I think the engagement over the last few days I think is more serious, more business-like, more focused than actually has been the case up to date."

'Huge challenges'

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that while failure was not an option in the talks, the challenges were huge.

"These talks have placed a very onerous responsibility on all of us to deal with the challenges we face, and the challenges are huge," he said.

He said the government's "austerity" policies were inhibiting the chances of achieving meaningful progress.

First Minister Peter Robinson did not attend Friday's meeting as a report on his wife Iris' assembly conduct was being published.

His DUP colleague, Finance Minister Simon Hamilton, said the DUP had been clear that there was a need for movement on budgetary issues, welfare reform and governance.

However, he said he remained optimistic there could be progress.

"I don't think anybody doubts the difficulties the parties in Northern Ireland face in trying to reach agreement but my party called for these talks, we have been involved intensely in these talks - we are in the business of making progress."

The shadow Secretary of State Ivan Lewis said the parties were "making headway with some extremely difficult issues".

"There is still much work to be done to convert optimism into concrete solutions," he said.

"We urge the British government to avoid any complacency and continue working with the Irish government to ensure a positive outcome."

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