The Stormont Assembly should be restored while negotiations continue to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Martin was meeting local parties in Belfast as the deadline to restore Stormont and avoid fresh Assembly elections rapidly approaches.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Irish Government now agreed with him that there is “no quick fix” to the problems created by the protocol, while Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said there had to be a way forward within the framework of the post-Brexit agreement.
The DUP is blocking the functioning of the powersharing institutions in Belfast as part of its protest against the protocol which has created barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The UK government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either through a negotiated compromise with the EU or domestic legislation to empower ministers to scrap the arrangements without the approval of Brussels.
Current legislation says that unless Stormont is restored by October 28th, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has to call Assembly elections, which he has said he is prepared to do.
Mr Martin said his talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders had been useful and open.
He said: “I am very clear in my view that the recent elections should be vindicated, should be realised in the form of the executive and the Assembly being restored.
“We are in very, very challenging times with a very significant cost-of-living crisis.
“It is in that context that the people of Northern Ireland do need an executive and an Assembly to work with everybody else in respect of dealing with these challenges.
“I am also clear that there is clearly a desire with all the major stakeholders for a negotiated resolution of the issues around the protocol.
“That was clear from my meeting with the British Prime Minister Liz Truss and from my engagement with the European Union. Talks have commenced, they should be allowed to continue and get a resolution around issues with the protocol.
“In the interim I think it is vital that the Assembly is restored.”
After his meeting with Mr Martin, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the Government has recently developed a better understanding of unionist concerns about the protocol.
“I think it is clear that the Irish Government share our view now that we’re not looking here at some kind of a quick fix, that what we need to do is deal with the protocol issues comprehensively, that we need to get to a place where the foundations for the political institutions are restored and strengthened, and that’s where we want to get to,” he said.
Mr Donaldson added there can be no “tinkering around the edges” with the protocol and there is a need to replace it with arrangements that “respect the integrity of the UK internal market”.
“I think the Irish Government recognises and understands our position better now than perhaps had been the case in the past,” he said.
Ms O’Neill called on the DUP to join the rest of the parties to “make politics work”.
She said: “What we need to see is an agreed way forward within the framework of the protocol, find ways to make it work, and get on with that piece of business because that seems to be the blockage, certainly, according to DUP, in terms of forming an executive.
“So there shouldn’t be any more delay and where we need to be today is around an executive table.”
Commenting on the October 28 deadline for calling a new election, Ms O’Neill said: “The DUP need to join the rest of us who want to make politics work, who want to honour the election result from May past and who want to actually help people through what is the most challenging of economic times.”
Alliance Party leader Naomi Long was the first to meet the Taoiseach on Monday.
Asked about a winter election, she said: “If they (the DUP) continue to dig in then it is inevitable.
“But I think the more important question is what purpose does that serve?”
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said it is “totally irresponsible” for the DUP to prevent the formation of an executive.
“There’s a massive crisis in people’s homes right now, there’s a crisis, as there always is in the health service, and our economy is in the toilet, and all the way the DUP are sitting out pretending they’re having some influence on the protocol negotiations,” he said.
Ulster Unionist leader Doug Beattie said there was a clear “landing zone” on which the UK and EU could agree a compromise on the protocol.
“We’re now hovering above it and all we have to do is land and that takes courage,” he said.
Mr Martin’s visit to Belfast will conclude with a visit to meet participants in programmes working with schools as catalysts for peace and reconciliation.