Foster blasts Sinn Fein ‘hysteria’ after McDonald says PM mollycoddling DUP
The DUP has denied being "mollycoddled" by Boris Johnson after the party clashed with Sinn Fein during the Prime Minister's first visit to Northern Ireland.
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald dismissed Mr Johnson's claim of impartiality after he enjoyed a private dinner with Arlene Foster and senior DUP figures ahead of formally meeting the five main parties at Stormont yesterday.
Ms McDonald told the Prime Minister he needed to ensure he wasn't the "DUP's gopher" and he must stop "mollycoddling" the party.
However, Mrs Foster hit back at the remarks.
"I don't feel mollycoddled at all and I think it highly pejorative, and actually quite offensive, that the Prime Minister of the UK comes to this country and that's the kind of reaction he gets," she said.
"We've seen (Sinn Fein's) hysterical reaction to the fact that we had dinner with the Prime Minister. My goodness, what a shocking thing to happen in a place where we're in a confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservative Party."
Mrs Foster said Mr Johnson told her he would never be neutral on the Union but would act in a neutral way in the administration of governance in Northern Ireland.
"He'll never be neutral on the Union and talk of a border poll was not something he was entertaining," she said.
"We look forward to working with the new Prime Minister to strengthen the Union."
Mr Johnson denied a conflict of interest as he was asked about Tuesday night's dinner at the Culloden Hotel with Mrs Foster, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson.
"It's all there in the Good Friday Agreement. We believe in complete impartiality and that's what we are going to observe," he said.
"But the crucial thing is to get the Stormont government up and running again."
Ms McDonald said the Tories' confidence and supply deal with the DUP had "poisoned the groundwater" at Stormont.
She said Mr Johnson was left in no doubt about her party's views. "He tells us he will act with absolute impartiality. We have told him that nobody believes that," she said.
"He asked for our advice and we have strongly advised him that to make progress here he needs to ensure that he is not the DUP's gopher.
"He needs to stop mollycoddling them. He needs to spell out the realities of life to them and put pressure on his unionist colleagues to ensure we can land on an equitable and sustainable agreement."
SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon claimed Mr Johnson delivered only bluff, bluster and stock responses during his meeting with her party.
He was "hurtling" Northern Ireland toward a "catastrophic" no-deal Brexit, she said.
"We went into this meeting concerned that he would have a limited understanding of the complexities and the fragility of this place and those concerns have been confirmed," she said.
"It is very clear he views and understands the situation through the eyes of the DUP.
"He just retorted with 'Brexit' nearly every question you asked him. Nearly every point we made, he gave us bluff and bluster around Brexit."
Ms Mallon said Mr Johnson's "wining and dining" of the DUP had set the wrong tone.
"It sends a message that he has a cosy relationship with one party here in Northern Ireland and that's damaging to our peace process," she added.
UUP leader Robin Swann said Mr Johnson and his team "may be settling into their new roles, but they do not have much time".
He said: "Northern Ireland has been without devolution for over two years now. Boris Johnson must apply pressure to those who are dragging their feet.
"The indulgence of the DUP and Sinn Fein has to come to an end.
"If a deal is not going to be reached then we made it clear to the Prime Minister that he must move to implement direct rule."
Mr Swann said he raised concerns about the backstop and was glad the Prime Minister agreed but Mr Johnson now had to unveil his plans for the removal of the mechanism.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said her party had "a frank and candid exchange of views" with Mr Johnson about Brexit and the Stormont talks.
"It is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to come up with such a plan and do so quickly, given how close we are to the cliff edge of a no-deal Brexit," she said.
"I left today's meeting unaware if the Prime Minister has a plan. If he does, he certainly disguises it well."
Earlier, a delegation from the Northern Ireland Conservatives welcomed Mr Johnson to the province.
Deputy chair Gary Hynds said they looked forward to working closely with the new Prime Minister's team.