Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster rejects claim DUP 'briefed loyalists linked to UVF and UDA' on talks about Irish Language Act deal

DUP leader Arlene Foster has rejected claims hardline loyalists were briefed on a potential deal between her party and Sinn Fein.

The Irish News reported on Tuesday of late night phone calls between members of the DUP and loyalists in the hours before Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were to arrive in Belfast amid speculation a deal had been done.

Speaking to the media in Brussels where the party was meeting Brexit talks chief Michel Barnier, she said she had "absolutely no knowledge" of any briefing.

"If briefing did happen it was not on my behalf or the behalf of the DUP," she said.

"I'm not saying it didn't happen, I am saying if it did it was not on my behalf or on the behalf of the DUP."

A war of words continued on Monday over the leaked draft document between the parties, with Arlene Foster denying Sinn Fein claims she personally handed over a draft deal to Michelle O'Neill and instead said there was an "exchange of ideas" in papers passed between the talks teams.

Tuesday's Irish News claimed senior loyalists with links to paramilitaries were briefed that any deal would only enshrine in law those rights already available to Irish speakers. It was claimed phone calls were made on the Sunday before both Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived in Belfast amid speculation a deal had been done.

"We were asked to reassure our people there would be no roll over to republicans," a UDA-linked source told the paper.

Theresa May, as she departed Belfast on February 12, urged the parties to make "one final push" to secure a deal. Two days later on Valentine's Day, DUP leader Arlene Foster collapsed the talks saying there was "no prospect of a deal".

The DUP has said there is a lot of "mistrust and bad blood" between the parties and there has been speculation it could be months before talks are likely to resume.

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