Belfast Telegraph

DUP was prepared to accept an Irish Act in 'draft deal', insists Sinn Fein

But Dodds says party's claim is 'propaganda'

By Suzanne Breen

Sinn Fein is to give copies of its "draft agreement" with the DUP to the British and Irish governments and will brief the other Stormont parties on the detail.

Mary Lou McDonald yesterday revealed some details of the package that Sinn Fein claims the DUP leadership agreed to and that would have seen power-sharing restored imminently.

The Sinn Fein president said the DUP had agreed to an Irish Language Act which gave official recognition to Irish and allowed for the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner and a repeal of the ban on using the language in court.

However, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds hit back, saying the "Sinn Fein propaganda machine" was in full flow.

"Everyone knows the DUP would never agree to anything which could be described as a stand-alone or free-standing Irish Language Act where one culture is given supremacy over another," he said.

While Ms McDonald insisted that a draft agreement was in place last week, DUP leader Arlene Foster denied that was the case. Mrs Foster pulled the plug on the talks on Wednesday, saying there was no chance of a deal.

At a Sinn Fein press conference yesterday, Ms McDonald said she needed to dispel "mistruths and inaccuracies" about what the proposed deal contained. She claimed it resolved the thorny language issue at the heart of the impasse with three separate pieces of legislation - an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and an overarching Respecting Language and Diversity Act.

She said the proposed Irish Language Act "did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration."

Ms McDonald said no consensus was reached on same-sex marriage. She said the text of the proposed deal included a review of the Assembly's petition of concern and the establishment of a committee to look at the potential of drawing up a Bill of Rights.

Ms McDonald said the parties had agreed that the post of Justice Minister would be allocated in a conventional manner from 2022, rather than being a jointly agreed DUP/Sinn Fein nomination.

She said the two parties had also secured a commitment from London to begin a public consultation on stalled mechanisms to deal with the conflict and to release funds needed to finance legacy inquests. Ms McDonald maintained that this "draft agreement" was struck late last week.

"At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved," she said.

"We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance that the package would unravel. The DUP failed to close the deal and went on to collapse the talks process."

But Mrs Foster told Sky News that Sinn Fein "certainly didn't have an offer of an Irish Language Act".

She said: "We didn't reach an agreement. I regret that we didn't reach an agreement. They were insisting that they have this stand-alone Irish Language Act and that is not something I could sign up to - I have always been very clear about that."

Mr Dodds said his party leader was right to call time on the talks. "We want devolved government but not at any price. Sinn Fein collapsed the institutions 13 months ago and arrived with a shopping list of demands before restoring the Executive," he said.

"They wanted a one-sided deal which could not have commanded the support of unionists. That's not acceptable.

"If Northern Ireland is to move forward Sinn Fein needs to show respect for those who hold dear their British identity.

"Repeatedly at the negotiations they were not prepared to take such a step."

But Sinn Fein negotiator Conor Murphy hit back at Mr Dodds saying: "The DUP leadership were at all times aware that an Acht Gaelige was required as part of a draft agreement.

"But having eventually conceded to its inclusion in the draft agreement, the DUP then decided to renege on this and collapse the talks."

The Prime Minister last night spoke to the DUP and Sinn Fein leaders by telephone. A No.10 spokesperson said Theresa May expressed her disappointment at the collapse of the talks but believed "the basis for an agreement" still existed.

Belfast Telegraph

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