SCOTLAND’S First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is set to host Sinn Fein’s vice president at Bute House today for face-to-face talks.

Michelle O’Neill and Sturgeon will discuss the cost-of-living crisis, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the troubled formation of the new Northern Ireland Executive.

It comes after O’Neill vowed to strengthen the “bonds of friendship” with Scotland and the Scottish Government, according to a Sinn Fein spokesperson.

After both the SNP and Sinn Fein achieved record results in the local council elections, Sturgeon congratulated O'Neill and her party’s president Mary Lou McDonald.

The National:

The SNP chief noted that the election results prompted serious questions about the UK’s constitutional future, saying: “There’s no doubt there are big, fundamental questions being asked of the UK as a political entity right now.

“They’re being asked here in Scotland, they’re being asked in Northern Ireland, they’re being asked in Wales and I think we’re going to see some fundamental changes to UK governance in the years to come, and I am certain one of those changes is going to be Scottish independence.”

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A spokesperson for O’Neill told the Sunday National: “Michelle O’Neill and her team have a strong relationship and proven record of working closely with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers on issues which matter to the people we both represent, not least the rise in cost of living where the British Government must act to deliver for workers and families.

“As incoming first minister, Michelle O’Neill is determined to strengthen our bonds of friendship with Scotland and with the Scottish Government as we work hard to defend our shared interests against a self-serving Conservative government and Prime Minister in Downing Street.”

The pair’s talks come as Northern Ireland’s main Unionist party is blocking the re-establishment of Stormont’s powersharing institutions in protest at the Protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

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The DUP this week welcomed the UK Government move to act unilaterally to scrap parts of the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements – but O’Neill said the DUP would be “foolish” to trust the Tories on the Northern Ireland Protocol given the number of times they have thrown the party “under the bus”.

Before he was Prime Minister, Boris Johnson famously pledged to the DUP party conference he would never agree to a Brexit deal that created economic barriers in the Irish Sea. He subsequently struck a deal that contained the protocol.

O’Neill added that the DUP’s boycott of powersharing was “punishing” people suffering in the cost-of-living crisis, as Stormont was powerless to help without a functioning executive.