FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf discussed “the importance of restoring devolved institutions in Northern Ireland” when he met with Sinn Fein depute leader Michelle O’Neill in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

The SNP leader met with O’Neill, who said that the devolved government in Belfast could be restored in a matter of weeks.

Due to Unionist protests about post-Brexit arrangements, there has not been a government at Stormont since the elections in May 2022, which saw Sinn Fein emerge as the largest party.

READ MORE: Sequence of events which led to collapse of devolved government at Stormont

As Stormont leader of Sinn Fein, O’Neill is set to become the first pro-Irish-reunification first minister of Northern Ireland.

Speaking during a visit to Scotland, O’Neill said that she had been kept abreast of developments while talks continue between the DUP and the UK Government over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

“I’ve been engaged with both the British Government and the Irish government the whole way through,” she said.

“I’ve been very clear in terms of what needs to not happen – we need to be ensuring that there’s nothing that does any jeopardy to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and we need to make sure that there’s nothing that unravels the deal that’s been done on the [Northern Ireland] protocol in the form of the Windsor Framework.

“I think that it’s very clear to me that the discussions have been going on for 18 months now.

“Now is the time for a decision to be made, and I hope it’s the right decision and I hope it’s a positive decision, and I believe that that decision is imminent.”

Pressed on a timeframe for the return of Stormont, O’Neill said: “The British Government and others are saying that we’re at the final stages. So if that’s the case, then it’s the time for decisions to be made.

“And I believe that that is in the timeframe of the next number of weeks. Let’s hope it’s a positive decision.

“Let’s hope we can get an executive up and running, let’s hope the DUP end their blockade and get back in around that executive table.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has said the talks are in their final phase but DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has cautioned that there are still gaps between their negotiating positions.

READ MORE: Donaldson says he cannot be certain Stormont will return by end of year

Earlier this week, former DUP leader Peter Robinson said that Unionists need to recognise that they will not get all they want from the Government in negotiations.

After dialogue between O’Neill and SNP leader Yousaf at Bute House, both leaders praised the meeting on social media.

“We discussed hopes of a deal to restore power-sharing and the opportunity for more co-operation between Scotland and Northern Ireland,” the SNP leader wrote, adding: “Including on tackling Westminster's cost of living crisis and underinvestment in public services.”

The National:

And O’Neill said: “Great to be in Edinburgh to meet with Scottish First Minister @HumzaYousaf.

“Scotland and Ireland have centuries-old ties of shared history, culture and friendship. A connection we want to remain strong.

“We discussed areas of mutual interest and concern, and our hope of an imminent agreement to get Stormont moving.”

O’Neill was meeting with Yousaf ahead of a British-Irish Council meeting in Dublin later this week.

She expressed regret that no Stormont ministers would be at the council meeting due to the powersharing impasse.

The Sinn Fein vice-president said: “Let’s hope we can get back to going to meetings such as the British-Irish Council meeting, to raise the issues that we have, the common ground that we have to stand up for good public services and the people that we represent collectively.”