A breakthrough in the North’s political process may be just “weeks away”, Britain’s Direct Ruler has said.

Paul Murphy said he thought Ian Paisley’s hardline DUP was prepared to share power with Sinn Féin and that a major move by the Provisional IRA to disarm could be imminent.

“I would hope that we’re talking about weeks rather than months,” he said.

“I wouldn’t want to be any more specific than that other than to say that intensive discussions are going on behind the scenes.”

Since last month’s Leeds Castle talks in England, attempts have continued to find a formula to which all the parties can agree to kickstart the Belfast Assembly and power-sharing.

Sinn Féin has suggested that Hallowe’en represents a make-or-break deadline for the talks.

Mr Murphy told a meeting of the British-Irish Inter- Parliamentary Body in Wales yesterday that that if the conditions are fulfilled and confidence can be restored, he had “no doubt” that the parties are prepared to work together -- including Sinn Féin and the DUP.

“On the basis, of course, that the deal is done with regard to paramilitary activity and decommissioning, which I think is something that we can certainly look forward to,” he added.

Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan was also among the politicians in the 68-member body, and he confirmed a breakthrough may be close.

Mr Morgan said: “I hope that in the next few days we will be in a position to welcome a breakthrough in the situation in Ireland.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney also said he was in no doubt that the Provisional IRA is poised to make a significant act in the coming weeks.

But Sinn Féin chairman Mitchel McLaughlin said in Dublin today that the two governments were not simply “facilitators or commentators” on this process -- and expressed doubts that the DUP were up for a deal.

He said it was crucial that the work at Leeds Castle was brought to a speedy conclusion.

“Republicans want to see a deal done. We want to see the political institutions back up and running and the outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement implemented.

“However the safeguards and protections in the Good Friday Agreement cannot be diluted. There has to be democratic accountability in policing.

“Both governments have declared their belief that the DUP is for power sharing.

“There is no evidence thus far to support this and it flies in the face of the DUP attitude in local councils where they have majority control.”

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