Northern Ireland

Progress made at Stormont talks say Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

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Media captionPeter Robinson and Martin McGuinness said that they have been making progress on welfare reform

Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have said they have been "making progress" on welfare reform.

Speaking at Stormont, Peter Robinson said he was "not without hope", but there was "still a long way to go".

Earlier this week, Sinn Féin withdrew support for the welfare reform bill.

The move has raised questions about the future of devolved government and talks have been taking place to solve the impasse.

It is understood behind the scenes contacts, involving officials, are continuing over the weekend, but no more formal meetings are scheduled until Monday.

'Reach a resolution'

The DUP and Sinn Féin took part in more than five hours of discussions on Friday.

"There is a commitment to Stormont House and Castle agreements. We've had discussions which I think were useful during the course of today," Mr Robinson said.

"I'm not without hope that we can reach a resolution."

Mr McGuinness said reaching agreement was a "huge challenge", but that progress was being made between the two parties.

"Good work has been done between our teams with a view to reporting some progress," he said.

'More time needed'

"Further work is being taken forward, we're hopeful about the future in overcoming difficulties we face at the moment."

The Secretary of State Theresa Villiers had described Sinn Féin's decision to withdraw support for welfare reform legislation as a setback.

Mr Robinson also said more time was needed for the "officials to do the work that we have tasked them with".

Mr Robinson and Martin McGuinness returned from a business trip in America on Thursday to take part in the ongoing negotiations.

It is still unclear if the first minister and deputy first ministers will travel to Washington to attend Barack Obama's St Patrick's Day festivities on Tuesday.

Mr Robinson previously said he would not make the trip unless the welfare crisis was resolved.

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