The DUP has said it is “continuing to engage with Government” amid speculation senior members had discussed returning to Stormont.
Party officers met on Friday amid mounting speculation that the DUP is preparing to make a call on whether or not to accept a Government deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Downing Street expressed hope the Stormont impasse could soon be resolved, while Irish premier Leo Varadkar described the meeting as a “positive sign”.
On Friday night, a DUP spokesperson declined to comment on what was said at the meeting, adding the party is continuing to engage with the UK government.
“We understand that there has been considerable interest in our meeting today,” they said.
“We will not give a running commentary on our position, save to say, we will continue to engage with the Government.”
The devolved institutions at Stormont have been collapsed for almost two years as a result of a DUP boycott in protest at the Brexit-linked economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Senior civil servants are running devolved departments, with limited powers, in the absence of local ministers.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said before Christmas that his negotiations with the DUP over the terms of the Windsor Framework – the UK/EU accord that governs GB/NI trade – had concluded.
Although the party has been holding out since then for more clarification on the Government’s proposals, it appears to be approaching the juncture when it decides whether to reject or accept the deal that would end the powersharing deadlock.
Any proposed return to Stormont would be expected to be strongly opposed by some of the DUP’s 12 party officers – who have made clear that devolution should only be restored when all of their concerns over the Irish Sea trading border have been addressed.
The officer board includes senior figures such as party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, deputy leader Gavin Robinson, senior peer Lord Dodds and longstanding MPs Sammy Wilson and Gregory Campbell.
Expectations had been raised before Christmas that the DUP could be poised to return to powersharing, but it did not materialise.
The Government has offered a £3.3 billion package to stabilise Northern Ireland’s finances, including £600 million to settle public sector pay claims in Northern Ireland.
However, Mr Heaton-Harris has made clear that the funds can only be released when the powersharing institutions return.
Thousands of public sector workers took part in strike action on Thursday, where calls were made for Mr Heaton-Harris to release the funds for pay claims and for the DUP to return to Stormont.
On Thursday, a legislative deadline passed for the restoration of the Stormont Assembly.
As a result, any imminent return of the Assembly would first require new legislation to be tabled at Westminster.
A No 10 spokeswoman said she would not speculate on political party meetings.
“Our focus has always been on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland who rightly expect locally elected decision-makers to address the issues that matter to them,” she added.
“We also think we have a strong basis for the restoration of powersharing, so we hope this can be fixed soon.”
Amid warnings earlier this week that the Stormont Assembly may not return for some time, former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith said on social media: “Sometimes it’s darkest before the dawn.”
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Irish government would like to see Stormont up and running.
Speaking to media in Galway on Friday evening, Mr Varadkar said: “There are discussions ongoing, mainly between the DUP and the British government.
“I think what we’d all like to see is the Assembly and Executive up and running. There are really serious issues that need to be dealt with in Northern Ireland, ranging from strikes to problems in the health service, and we would like to see devolution working again, the Good Friday Agreement operating, and of course the Irish government is ready and willing to help out in any way that we can.”
He said he did not want to raise expectations, adding there had been “a number of false dawns” in terms of the potential return of Stormont.
Asked could there be any tweaks to the Windsor Framework, he responded: “The Windsor Framework is working, we have no hard border between north and south, and the Northern Ireland economy is outperforming that of the UK.
“No changes have been sought to the Windsor Framework from the UK side and there are no negotiations under way in that regard, but there may be things that could be done on a bilateral level within the United Kingdom that might give some reassurance to the DUP, but that’s really a matter for the UK government.”