Sunday 24 March 2019

DUP rejects SF claims of Stormont agreement

The DUP’s Arlene Foster contradicted Sinn Féin claims about a deal and denied she had lost control of her party. Photo: PA
The DUP’s Arlene Foster contradicted Sinn Féin claims about a deal and denied she had lost control of her party. Photo: PA

David Young

Sinn Féin has outlined details of a draft deal to restore powersharing in Stormont, which it insists was struck with the DUP before it pulled the plug on negotiations.

SF president Mary Lou McDonald accused the DUP of effectively getting cold feet and backing out of an agreement that would have ended the impasse that has left Northern Ireland without a functioning government for 13 months.

"We understood above all else that we had a deal, we understood we had landed on a respectful, workable accommodation," she said.

The DUP dismissed the claims as "propaganda", and leader Arlene Foster rejected suggestions she was over-ruled when she presented the mooted accord to colleagues, branding the theory as "rubbish".

Ms Foster also denied Sinn Féin claims that a free-standing Irish Language Act was part of any draft deal.

The latest acrimonious exchanges came as British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted the basis of an agreement still existed.

Mrs May expressed disappointment at the turn of events in phone calls to the party leaders last night.

Insisting the act was present in the text, Ms McDonald accused some critics of deliberately misrepresenting its contents to whip up fears among unionists, by claiming Irish would be forced upon people.

"I say shame on you for so deliberately misrepresenting a good measure, an inclusive measure in a way that would cause such levels of concern or even distress among our unionist citizens," she said.

While she declined to publish the full text, Ms McDonald outlined details verbally at Stormont, saying there was a need to dispel "mistruths and inaccuracies".

The newly elected party president said the ill-fated "draft agreement" was struck late last week.

"We advised the DUP leadership the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved," said the Sinn Féin leader.

"We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance the package would unravel."

Ms McDonald claimed the DUP's attitude shifted on Monday to one of "disengagement" before the party crashed the talks on Wednesday when Sinn Féin challenged its negotiators on what was going on.

She claimed the deal resolved the thorny language issue at the heart of the Stormont impasse with three separate pieces of legislation - an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and an overarching Respecting Language and Diversity Act that incorporated the provisions contained in the other two Acts.

She rubbished rumours that the Irish Language Act contained measures that would see the compulsory teaching of the language in schools or workforce quotas of speakers in the civil service.

"There was no effort to enforce Irish," she said. "That was never the case and that will never ever be the case."

Ms Foster insisted there had been no offer to Sinn Féin of an Irish Language Act.

She also dismissed claims she had lost control of her party as "nonsense" and said she had kept her party officers briefed throughout the negotiations.

Stormont's main parties are also at loggerheads on how Northern Ireland should be governed if talks ultimately fail.

The DUP wants the UK government to reintroduce direct rule.

Sinn Féin insists direct rule is not an option and the Irish Government must have a key role in the region if Stormont does not return.

Irish Independent

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