The UK and Irish governments have published a draft deal to restore Stormont, with the Assembly to be recalled on Friday to see if the parties will turn up and sign up to it.
Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith has asked the speaker of the defunct house to hold a sitting on Friday morning, without the Stormont parties having yet agreed to all the proposals.
The bold move comes without the DUP or Sinn Fein having publicly signalled a willingness to agree to the terms of the deal – called “‘New Decade, New Approach”.
Friday will see a strike by healthcare workers in the region.
Mr Smith said there was a major financial package on offer from the Government, that would mean the strike would not go ahead if the parties restored the institutions.
“We have had three years of talks and there is finally a good deal on the table that all parties can support,” he said.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the deal was “filled with compromises”.
Mr Coveney said the people needed to tell their politicians to take the opportunity and seal the deal.
“It’s now time their politicians stepped up and fully represented their constituents,” he said.
“It’s time to show leadership and get back to powersharing in Stormont.”
The deal represents the governments’ joint assessment of how long-standing wrangles on issues such as the Irish language can be resolved.
Mr Smith said the parties realised they had reached a critical juncture.
“We have got one chance to get this right and I am under no doubt that everyone realises that this chance is now,” he said.
Mr Coveney said political leaders had a choice – whether to meet the proposals with generosity or negativity.
“There is no such thing as a perfect deal and that is why parties have to make choices as to how they respond,” he said.
“This is the opportunity for people to take – the alternatives are not good.”
— Irish Foreign Ministry (@dfatirl) January 9, 2020
The impasse has focused on proposals for Irish language legislation; reform of a contentious Assembly voting mechanism; and plans to make the institutions less susceptible to collapse in the future.
The parties had been working to a Monday deadline to restore the institutions.
Earlier, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s Westminster leader, said the party was not yet in a position to sign up to the proposals.
“We are in a process of continuing to discuss these matters both internally and externally,” he said.
“We continue to represent the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland in seeking to get an agreement that ensures that this place is up and running again on a secure and sustainable basis.”
Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill said her party was at Stormont to “do the business” but stopped short of saying it was content with the governments’ deal.
“Our determination is to make politics work,” she said.
“It is going to take all of the parties to make the politics work.
“It is going to need to be a sustainable and credible government. It is going to need to be a government that actually has equality at its core.”
Ms O’Neill insisted the deadline was a “real” one.
On Monday, legislation to give civil servants extra powers to run the region’s troubled public services expires and the UK Government assumes a legal duty to call a fresh Assembly election.