Belfast Telegraph

DUP leader Foster 'categorically denies' any agreement was reached with Sinn Fein

DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied any agreement was reached with Sinn Fein before talks collapsed.

The denial comes after Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill claimed Mrs Foster presented her with a hard copy of the contentious "draft agreement" in the days before the DUP leader collapsed the talks.

Speaking in Brussells, the Sinn Fein's Northern Ireland leader said it was "crystal clear" an agreement had been made.

Mrs Foster, responding to Mrs O'Neill's comment, said: "The latest round of talks ended with no agreement because Sinn Fein wanted a one-sided deal rather than a fair and balanced settlement.

"During the course of those negotiations, draft papers were exchanged between Michelle O’Neill and I on an almost daily basis. I have a lever arch folder containing them.  Some related to the Irish language, others related to treatment of innocent victims and others to how Sinn Fein ministers would implement the military covenant.

"None of those draft papers had any standing. They were an exchange of ideas between negotiating teams."

"I can categorically state there was never any agreement reached. Even the documentation selectively leaked by Sinn Fein shows square brackets thus demonstrating there was no agreement."

Last Friday journalist Eamonn Mallie published an email chain between a DUP adviser and the head of Mrs O'Neill's office which he said provided "incontrovertible proof" that the DUP leader gave Mrs O'Neill a hard copy of a draft agreement.

However, Mrs Foster said other political commentators "have recognised the document in circulation was not agreed."

She added: "Indeed, on the Friday in question, I released a statement saying 'good progress made but more work still to do.' Neither was any draft agreement handed over by me to Sinn Fein. Given the state of play, it is highly surprising that such a statement should be made.

"With little present prospect of devolution, I am now focused on delivering for Northern Ireland through Westminster. To that end, the Government should set a budget and also make key decisions about our roads, schools and hospitals.

"Arguing over the negotiation scraps ignores the serious issues which need addressed."

Mrs Foster will lead a delegation to meet the chief negotiator for the European Commission Michele Barnier on Tuesday.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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