Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams will lead their parties into the first meeting of a new committee today which will draw up policies for a future power sharing government.
Irish and British government officials regarded the inaugural meeting of the new Programme for Government Committee as a significant step towards devolution in the wake of last week’s breakthrough at the St Andrews talks in Scotland.
Four Assembly parties will make up the future Stormont Government – the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin, the Ulster Unionists and the nationalist SDLP - and will for the first time discuss priorities of the power sharing executive which could be formed by next March.
Under the St Andrews Agreement, which the parties have to give their assent to by November 10, there are a number of staging posts before full devolution is granted to the North next year.
Sinn Féin is required to change its policing policy and endorse Police Service of Northern Ireland if power sharing between Unionists and nationalists is to be revised.
On November 24, Mr Paisley and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness are expected to be appointed First and Deputy First Ministers at Stormont.
Today’s meeting, the governments hope, will be part of the process of building sufficient trust and confidence between the two parties ahead of full devolution next March.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern cautioned against over-estimating the meeting.
“There have been occasions when they have sat in the same room before,” he said.
“I wouldn’t overestimate what is happening. To be fair, it is the start of the acknowledgement that they both now have a job to do to bring us to November 24 when there will be nominations for First Minister and Deputy First Minister.
“I wouldn’t over-estimate it but it is important.
“There is a job of work to be done to discuss the final issues of setting up a programme for government.
“I wouldn’t overestimate it but it shows that they want to get down to business and to get the job done.”