A DUP insider has expressed concerns that the deal under consideration at Stormont offers Sinn Fein more than it does their party.
The source blamed the failure to finalise an agreement yesterday on continuing differences over the Irish Language Act.
“There is more in the deal currently proposed that benefits Sinn Fein than the DUP,” they said. “There also isn’t enough there to protect the institutions from being collapsed again by Sinn Fein.”
The source said it was wrong to characterise differences in the DUP as being between MPs and MLAs. “There is no power struggle between Westminster and Stormont. But individuals in both groups have raised key issues,” they said.
DUP and Sinn Fein leaders both insisted yesterday that good progress had been made in the talks to restore power-sharing.
Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald were speaking as the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach travelled to Stormont to encourage the parties to finalise an agreement.
Theresa May called for “one final push” to secure a deal and Leo Varadkar said he was “very hopeful” of an agreement being brokered this week.
Mrs Foster said: “There isn’t a deal yet but there is very good progress and we will keep at it and continue to work on that progress.”
She described the tone of the discussions as “very good” and said the DUP would “continue to have conversations with Sinn Fein around the outstanding matters”.
Mrs Foster said: “It is about finding an accommodation that recognises the need to respect all languages and all cultures in Northern Ireland and not allow one to dominate over another.” She added that if the public were “frustrated at the pace of progress, we all are as well”.
Ms McDonald said: “We believe that we are close to an agreement which, certainly, we can put to our grassroots and to the community as a whole.” She acknowledged “we are not exactly there just yet” but maintained “there is nothing insurmountable if there is the political will”.
There were no bilateral talks between the two big parties yesterday and the DUP spent much of the day in internal meetings. “Clearly we need to meet, clearly we need to resolve the outstanding issues,” Ms McDonald added.
The Prime Minister described her discussions with the parties as “full and frank” and was optimistic about progress. Mrs May said: “The DUP and Sinn Fein have been working hard to close the remaining gaps.”
Mr Varadkar said there was a “lot of work to do” but progress was going in the “right direction”. The Taoiseach and Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney held discussions with all the parties except the DUP. It is understood that the party felt that a meeting was inappropriate because the talks related to the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.
UUP leader Robin Swann hit out that the talks remained “an exclusive two-party process” and said a deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein still wasn’t over the line.
“We made clear to the Prime Minister that the UUP wants to play a positive, constructive role in these discussions but we remain excluded from the process.
“If the intention is to form a stable and effective Executive, then this talks process would need to move to the next stage very rapidly,” he said.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood claimed the Prime Minister and Taoiseach had been brought to sign-off on a deal but were “instead left embarrassed by the DUP and Sinn Fein”.
“The opportunity is still there to get this deal over the line but it will require a level of leadership and courage that has evaded these parties for far too long. Instead of allowing these parties to run the show, both Governments need to drive this process to a conclusion,” he said.
Alliance leader Naomi Long said any deal must be “futureproofed and sustainable”. She said reform of the petition of concern was essential “to prevent any future difficult decisions destabilising a new Executive and Assembly”.
Mrs Long added: “It is vital not only we see an Executive restored, but it is stable and capable of addressing the major political, social and financial challenges which face us. Anything less will fail to restore public confidence in politics and the institutions.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said a “DUP climbdown” on the Irish language appeared increasingly likely. The DUP was switching from “curried yoghurt to humble pie”, he claimed.
“In 2014 Gregory Campbell boasted to the DUP party conference to wild applause: ‘We’ll say it slowly so you understand Caitriona (Ruane) and Gerry – we will never agree to your Irish Language Act. Do you understand? The paper your wish list is written on well, we’ll just regard it as toilet paper’.
“A question which the DUP now has to face is – is the Sinn Fein wish list still ‘toilet paper’ or is it now the Programme for Government?” Mr Allister asked.