Belfast Telegraph

Foster repeats denial that a draft Stormont deal was shared with Sinn Fein

The DUP leader said “numerous” papers she gave to Michelle Mrs O’Neill during the talks process did not include a proposal to restore powersharing.

Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster has moved to counter fresh claims around an alleged draft deal Sinn Fein insists she struck to restore Stormont powersharing just days before walking out on talks.

Mrs Foster has already denied claims she personally handed over the proposed text of an agreement to Sinn Fein Stormont leader Michelle O’Neill five days before she pulled the plug on negotiations last month.

She has acknowledged she handed over “numerous” papers to Mrs O’Neill during the talks process, but has stressed none amounted to a draft deal.

On Tuesday, it was further reported that DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was in the room on February 9 when the alleged agreement text was exchanged.

Mrs Foster branded the claim, which was broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show, as “complete and utter nonsense”.

“I want to say that very, very clearly – Nigel was not in the room,” she added.

Mrs Foster also responded to a report in the Irish News that DUP members briefed hard-line loyalists linked to paramilitary groups about the contents of the mooted accord to resurrect devolution after a year-long impasse.

When asked about the claim during a press conference in Brussels, Mrs Foster did not deny briefings took place, but insisted she had no knowledge of them.

“If people were briefing organisations they were doing it on their own behalf,” she said.

“Certainly they weren’t doing it on behalf of me or the Democratic Unionist Party.”

She added: “I am not saying it didn’t take place, I am saying they didn’t do it on my behalf or on behalf of the Democratic Unionist Party.”

If people were briefing organisations they were doing it on their own behalf Arlene Foster

The reports were the latest challenges to the DUP’s ongoing insistence that it had not agreed the framework of a deal with Sinn Fein that would have seen devolution return to Stormont.

The party has been accused of getting cold feet at the eleventh hour in the face of an internal revolt from grassroots members angry about potential concessions to Sinn Fein on the vexed dispute over the Irish language.

The DUP has vehemently denied its negotiating team agreed a draft deal prior to the Valentine’s Day break up of talks.

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