Ulster Unionist leader Tom Elliott has refused to accept the DUP's continued denials of secret talks with Sinn Fein years before the two parties agreed to share power.
Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph revealed that leaked US embassy cables from the WikiLeaks website indicated that the DUP and Sinn Fein were involved in “substantive, direct” contact as far back as 2004.
Last night the DUP continued to insist the party was not involved in any negotiations or direct meetings with Sinn Fein before the power-sharing agreement in March 2007.
But Mr Elliott, whose party was condemned by the DUP in the past for doing business with Sinn Fein, said the latest denials lack any credibility.
He said: “For those Ulster Unionists who have been the victims of sustained DUP attacks over the years, there will be a degree of satisfaction that this has been exposed, and by no less a body than the United States Government.”
Mr Elliott continued: “It does make one wonder about other DUP denials and protestations of innocence.
“If the DUP can’t be trusted on the issue of whether or not they talked to Sinn Fein from 2004 onward, you have to wonder just what other issues they have found it convenient to use with the electorate in order to seek political and electoral advantage.”
Speaking in Scotland yesterday, First Minister Peter Robinson again insisted there had been no direct contact between the DUP and Sinn Fein prior to 2007.
But he said following his party’s 2003 Stormont election success, the DUP was engaged in talking to British officials who the party knew were also talking to Sinn Fein at the same time “and trying to move the issues forward”.
Speaking in Edinburgh, following a meeting with their Scottish and Welsh counterparts, the DUP leader said: “There was no secret about that.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness quipped that both he and Mr Robinson at that time — a period which led up to the 2004 Leeds Castle talks — “became very good at mind reading” but they only met for the first time in 2007.
He added that while WikiLeaks was looking backwards, he wanted to look forwards.
Meanwhile, nobody from the SDLP was prepared to comment publicly on unflattering cables from a senior US official about SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie.
The cable revealed in this paper yesterday, written by the American Consul General in Belfast, Kamala Lahkdhir, described Ms Ritchie as “wooden” and burdened with “an unpleasant speaking voice”.
It was also revealed that US officials were told by party insiders that Alasdair McDonnell had a “bull-in-the-china-shop” approach to politics.
An SDLP press officer described the WikiLeaks revelations as “diplomatic tittle-tattle”.
The US Consulate in Belfast said yesterday it does not comment on classified documents “which may have been leaked”.
A spokesman added: “With regard to the diplomatic community’s practice of cable writing, these cables are often preliminary and incomplete expressions of foreign policy and should not be seen as having standing on their own, or as representing US policy.
“Any unauthorised disclosure of classified material is regrettable as it has the potential to harm individuals as well as efforts to advance foreign policy goals shared by nations around the world.
“The US Government is committed to ensuring that our private communications are secure, and steps have been taken to enhance the security of our systems to prevent the illegal leaking of information.
“The expectation of privacy among those with whom we continue to engage is a responsibility that we take very seriously.”