DUP leader Arlene Foster rejected Sinn Fein claims she had approved a draft agreement between the parties to break the political deadlock which – it was claimed – included an Irish language act.
She also dismissed as “nonsense” a suggestion she had lost control of her party over the matter.
The MLA said she “couldn’t have sold where we had got to” as the call for a free-standing Irish language act was not something she was comfortable with.
“That is not something I could countenance and so if I wasn’t comfortable with it, I certainly wasn’t going to recommend it to the party or indeed the wider unionist community,” she said.
She was responding after Sinn Fein disclosed some of the details, it claimed, that had been agreed with the DUP leadership. Party president Mary Lou McDonald claimed the deal included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act. She said that while there was no “meetings of minds” on same-sex marriage, there was a recognition no one party could table a petition of concern and the matter would likely be considered by a private members bill in the Assembly.
There was also agreement to review the “abuse” of the Petition of Concern and establishing a committee to look at the Bill of Rights as well as a change to how the justice minister was appointed, the Dublin TD claimed.
Speaking to the BBC Mrs Foster said “good progress” had been made.
“But unfortunately when we got to the end of this week – and Sinn Fein have always made it clear this week was the end of the negotiations as far as they were concerned – we hadn’t reached a place which I felt I could recommend to the party officers or indeed the party in general.
“So we decided yesterday we should leave it and reflect on where we had got to and then think about coming back to it. I have not given up on this process, I believe in devolution.”
She added: “It is disappointing we have not reached an agreement.. but that doesn’t mean to say we should not walk away. We should take some time to reflect and regroup and come back at this again.”
It is disappointing .. but that doesn’t mean to say we should not walk away.
Asked by Sky News what the Prime Minister should do, Mrs Foster said there could be no move to joint authority between the British and Irish governments saying that would be contrary to the Belfast Agreement.
“What she has to do now is govern Northern Ireland,” Mrs Foster added.
“Obviously she and I both wish this was through a devolved administration in Stormont.
“At the moment we have reached an impasse and therefore there is a necessity for her to step in and set a budget so that public services can be delivered in Northern Ireland.”
She added: “We have been involved in these negotiations now for over a year. Sinn Fein walked away in November and at that time the government had to implement a budget to protect public services and again this has come to the fore.
“We didn’t reach and agreement, I regret we didn’t reach an agreement because they were insisting on a free standing Irish language act and that was not something I could sign up to. I was clear on that last year and I am clear on that this year.”
She was asked if there was “push back” from her 10 influential MPs over the deal and if she had “lost control of her party”.
“That’s nonsense. For a start because not all of my MPs are in the party officer board. I have been briefing my party officers right throughout this process and over the past four weeks we have been having meetings where I have been bringing them up to date on where we are at.
“But I have never felt I was in the position that I could make a recommendation and so no recommendation has been made because I didn’t feel content with where we had got to in relation to these matters”
Belfast Telegraph Digital