Belfast Telegraph

Foster slams Sinn Fein's 'games' but says talks are making some progress

By Steven Alexander

Sinn Fein is "playing games" in the talks to restore Stormont, with proposals put "forward one day and withdrawn the next", DUP leader Arlene Foster has said.

Speaking at a gathering of party members and supporters in Co Tyrone, the former First Minister clearly rejected Sinn Fein's apparent 'all or nothing' approach to its demands - but hinted strongly that there were some proposals she would accept.

Mrs Foster added that any plan to revive the power-sharing institutions will be measured against criteria published in the DUP's election manifesto.

"The DUP team has seen every negotiating tactic and trick there is," she said.

"Predictions of agreements and false briefings will not bounce the DUP.

"Parties playing games with proposals put forward one day and withdrawn the next won't make the DUP blink either.

"Above the party politics, unionism's choice is not between saying yes to anything or no to everything.

"There is a middle path of saying yes to the right thing at the right time. This has been the DUP approach and it has delivered more for unionism and Northern Ireland than any other strategy.

"Any talks outcomes will be judged against the criteria we published in our March Assembly election manifesto. We will not, however, be a party to facilitating an outcome that is one-sided in nature and not in the best interests of Northern Ireland."

During the speech Mrs Foster said discussions had intensified in recent weeks, "and while solid progress has been made in some areas, differences do remain and hurdles have yet to be overcome".

"For our part we are determined to try to achieve an agreement that can be supported by unionists and nationalists," she said. "Nowhere is this more important than in the area of how we deal with cultural identity and associated languages.

"If we are to build a society that can move forward sustainably then we must be able to demonstrate to one another that no one culture can have dominance over the other." Mrs Foster said that any new Executive "must be restored on a sustainable basis and all parties who share that view must insist on that being the case".

"The DUP would have been in an Executive yesterday, would have been in an Executive today and would be in an Executive tomorrow without precondition and at the end of August I offered to run the Executive and talks in tandem," she said.

"If others insist in negotiations first and negotiations only, as they have, then the DUP must deal with that.

"However, those insisting on that route will find us as resolute in those negotiations as we have been in every other negotiation. We have an experienced team who have a track record of knowing how to secure a good deal."

And Mrs Foster repeated her mantra of blaming Sinn Fein for being an obstacle to local decision-making over big issues affecting the public.

"It is Sinn Fein, and Sinn Fein alone, stopping issues like health and education being dealt with by local ministers," she said.

"Time and again there is a narrative that blames everyone equally. This narrative must be challenged.

"If Sinn Fein is unable or unwilling to enter an Executive on a sensible basis then it will be imperative on the Secretary of State to bring forward a budget for the wider good governance of Northern Ireland.

"Northern Ireland needs government and if that cannot be achieved at Stormont then Westminster will be required to provide it."

Mrs Foster also paid tribute to the first responders, emergency crews and utility services who worked through storm Ophelia to help and protect the public.

"We were thankfully spared deaths or serious injuries but our thoughts and prayers go to the families in the Republic of Ireland who suffered loss and injury," she said.

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