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'We are not for backing down', says Sinn Fein over Donaldson claims party will relent over Arlene Foster demand

By Jonny Bell

Sinn Fein has said it is not for backing down over its refusal to endorse Arlene Foster for First Minister before the RHI inquiry report.

It comes after Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said there will be no government in Northern Ireland if Sinn Fein continue with their demand for Arlene Foster to step aside for the RHI inquiry. The senior DUP MP said Sinn Fein will relent over its "unreasonable demand".

"Sinn Fein’s position on Arlene Foster is clear, we won’t support her nomination as First Minister until the RHI inquiry reports," said the party in response.

"Our focus is on reaching agreement on the restoration of the political institutions.

"But it cannot be on the same basis as before."

More: 'No Arlene, no Stormont but Sinn Fein will relent,' claims DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson

Sinn Fein continued: "We are in the talks on that basis but we don’t yet have an agreement and a major blockage is the British Government's refusal to honour its commitments.

"If the Executive is not formed, the two governments need to begin detailed work on British-Irish partnership arrangements to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is actively developed across its structures and functions."

The parties are locked in talks aimed at restoring the power-sharing institutions. They are working to resolve the legacy of the past, parades and flags as well as outstanding issues from previous agreements such as an Irish language act and a bill of rights.

However, before the process begun Sinn Fein have said they will not nominate to the position of deputy First Minister if Arlene Foster is nominated as First Minister for the duration of the inquiry into the botched Renewable Heating Incentive scandal.

Speaking on the BBC Stephen Nolan show, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he believed the republican party will relent and Mrs Foster will return to her position.

He said: "If we can get a broad measure of agreement on all of the other issues, Sinn Fein will relent on this demand which we believe is an unreasonable demand."

Asked what would happen if Sinn Fein does not relent on the demand, he said: "Then we are not going to get a government and then presumably an election or direct rule will follow.

"Frankly Northern Ireland doesn't need either of these things and we are working to avoid them."

He added: "Sinn Fein have said these things before - 'not a bullet, not an ounce' and in the end we got progress. We may not have had progress we would have liked, but progress nonetheless.

"I am a believer in what's possible. You don't accept preconditions, you sit and you hammer it out.

"Sinn Fein have said 'let's negotiate on all the other issues and then we will look at the position on Arlene Foster and we have taken them on that.

"We are prepared to work to get agreement on all the other issues and then we will look at that matter."

He also said Arlene Foster's position within the party was "never in doubt" and no one within the party has stated that she should step aside as First Minister.

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