Belfast Telegraph

'The North is not British' - Hopes fade of deal as Foster and O'Neill clash over Northern Ireland's Britishness

By Jonathan Bell

Hope of a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein has slipped further away after Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill clashed over Northern Ireland being British at a Conservative party conference event.

That was the reaction of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley.  He tweeted during a question and answer session at the Champ Ulster fry breakfast fringe event.

DUP-Sinn Féin clash at Conservatives conference

Posted by BBC News NI on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Asked if Sinn Fein wanted legislation to make Northern Ireland look less British, Michelle O'Neill said "the north isn't British".

Responding, Arlene Foster said that while she didn't want a row "Northern Ireland is British".

Moments earlier the DUP leader told delegates "solid progress" had been made in the talks with Sinn Fein on restoring the Northern Ireland political institutions, but differences still remained.

Any agreement, the DUP leader said, had to be supported by unionists.

"No where is this more important than in the area of how we deal with language and culture," she said.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire said the Westminster government will set a budget this month if no agreement is reached. He told Sky News he wanted an Executive in place before Brexit.

The UK is to leave the EU in March 2019.

Addressing those in attendance, Arlene Foster said that while her party's electoral strength in the Commons was "widely recognized" it would not distract from "what needs to be done in Belfast".

"It is not a choice for the DUP between influence in London and executive power in Belfast.  What is in the best interests of Northern Ireland is operating in tandem and this remains our goal," she said.

"I said several weeks ago that the Irish language was not a threat to the union.  That is absolutely the case.  But if we are to build a society that can move forward sustainability then we must be able to demonstrate to one another that no one culture can have dominance over the other."

Michelle O'Neill said the confidence and supply deal "posed real challenges" and Sinn Fein would not be "shoe horned" into a deal cobbled together between the Tories and DUP to resurrect Stormont.

"That will not happen. The shape of a deal is very clear. The two governments know this. So do the DUP and the other parties," she said.

"I believe a political breakthrough is entirely possible, but only we can together grasp the opportunity to guarantee the right of every citizen to their democratic social, economic, civil and political rights. Rights that are realised and enjoyed in the rest of these islands."

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