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DUP's historic deal with May's Tory government imminent, says Foster

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster says that her party is close to sealing a historic deal with the Tories — as she prepares to meet the Prime Minister for talks at Westminster today.

The DUP leader last night travelled to London along with senior party MPs, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Nigel Dodds.

“I believe we are close to concluding an appropriate agreement with the Conservative Party to support a minority Government on a confidence and supply basis,” Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph.

Read more: Arlene Foster: DUP will work to deliver for people who put trust in party

The political focus has shifted again to London despite the parties having just three days left to reach a deal to save power-sharing at Stormont. Negotiations between Sinn Fein and Mrs Foster’s party continued in Belfast over the weekend but no progress will be possible before details of any DUP-Conservative deal are published.

DUP sources were last night confident that a deal would be announced today. The Tories are seeking to finalise the deal ahead of a crucial vote on the Queen’s Speech in Parliament on Wednesday.

While there have been fears that the DUP would focus only on advancing unionist interests in the pact, Mrs Foster insisted that any agreement would serve both communities.

“We are determined to utilise this position to help deliver stable Government in the UK and address long-standing issues which affect everyone in Northern Ireland,” she said.

The DUP leader claimed that her party was now “at the heart of UK politics and in an incredibly influential position” which represented “a massive opportunity but a responsibility I do not take lightly”.

She admitted that progress during talks with the Tories had been “slow at times” but stressed that both parties “continue to work through the issues”.

She continued: “The Conservative Party and the DUP have common principles of supporting the Union and delivering a safer and more prosperous UK.

“As Northern Ireland, alongside the rest of the UK exits the European Union, I want to ensure we are in a strong position of influence to get the best deal for those who live and work here.”

In a clear reference to Sinn Fein, she said that this month’s Westminster election had “exposed the fallacy of MPs not taking their seats”.

“With only 11 of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs taking their seats in the House of Commons, I can assure people in every constituency, DUP MPs will speak up for everyone and will seek to deliver for everyone,” she said.

Round-table talks involving the local parties and the British and Irish Governments are due to take place at Stormont this afternoon.

After those discussions, the parties will meet with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, Sir Malcolm McKibbin, to determine the agenda for the rest of the week.

Political sources said that Sinn Fein’s tone in the negotiations had changed considerably in recent days and the party now appeared keener to reach a deal with the DUP.

However, the talks’ insiders were sceptical as to whether the DUP would offer Sinn Fein enough to satisfy republicans.

SDLP negotiator Claire Hanna said it was “highly frustrating” that discussions were “once again going down to the wire” in terms of Thursday’s deadline for agreement.

“This culture is only increasing public cynicism and frustration,” she said.

Alliance leader Naomi Long said that unless there was “significant progress imminently”, it was “hard to see Thursday’s deadline being met”.

“Time is running out as many key players will be in Westminster for Northern Ireland questions and for the vote on the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday,” she said.

Mrs Long stated that issues important to the Alliance, SDLP, and UUP had been “parked” and would have to be urgently addressed if the DUP and Sinn Fein wanted a five-party Executive.

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