Stormont party leaders to meet again on Friday after 'robust' talks

Alliance leader Naomi Long described Thursday's party leader's meeting as "candid and constructive". 

The justice minister chaired the meeting which aimed to address the cost of living crisis gripping Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill described the meeting as "very forthright and very robust".

There was, however, no breakthrough in reaching an agreement on how to do important business at Stormont without an Executive.

All the parties were agreed that they need to do something to help households and workers struggling with the shocking rise in the cost of living in just the last few weeks.

A draft budget wasn't agreed before the DUP's Paul Givan resigned as first minister, and since another £300million has been made available to Stormont. 

It's a significant sum, some of which could be used to ease the pressure on families with higher bills.

However, the Sinn Fein Finance Minister Conor Murphy says he has been advised by lawyers that he can't touch the money without the sign-off of an Executive.  

This was the main focus of the party leaders' meeting. Could at least some of the £300m be handed to all households in a one-off payment? 

Those on benefits are about to receive £200 through another scheme.

Finance Minister Conor Murphy Credit: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA

Sinn Fein has suggested the DUP comes back to the Executive. Alliance agrees, even if it's only a temporary move.

Naomi Long believes that would be the cleanest and simplest way of sorting out the blockage and spending the money.

It's complicated by the fact that some of the money is earmarked for next year.

The DUP is unlikely to budge on this. 

Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson does not accept that there isn't another avenue for the Finance Minister Conor Murphy to access the money if there is agreement from all the parties.

Meanwhile, the SDLP has been taking advice on whether it's possible to bring a Private Members' Bill in the Assembly, or to bring emergency legislation at Westminster to unlock money for families in Northern Ireland. 

But that too is complicated and there is very little time left at Stormont to get anything done before the end of the current mandate and an election.

Today's meeting ended with party leaders agreeing to meet again on Friday morning at 8am.  

They hope to receive a briefing from the head of the civil service and the Department of Finance about what exactly is or isn't possible in terms of spending whatever money is available.