Sinn Féin and DUP trade insults amid talks with Secretary of State
SINN Féin and the DUP have traded insults on the first day of exploratory talks about a possible return to power-sharing.
Speaking after a meeting with Secretary of State Karen Bradley at Stormont, DUP leader Arlene Foster accused the republican party of shattering trust in efforts to restore the devolved institutions.
However, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill claimed the DUP was more interested in maintaining its 'confidence and supply' deal with the Tories at Westminster than working towards the restoration of power-sharing.
Accusing the republican party of leaking confidential papers in the aftermath of a Valentine's Day talks bust-up, Mrs Foster claimed Sinn Féin's behaviour was unlike anything she had ever witnessed in her political career.
"They have behaved in an incredibly bad way, therefore the building up of trust is going to take a long time and it is going to take actions," she said.
"We have heard a lot from Sinn Féin in relation to reaching out, it's about time that they recognised the role they had in relation to the breakdown and in relation to the shattering of trust within the unionist community."
Mrs Bradley met Northern Ireland's five main parties yesterday as part of talks aimed at finding a blueprint for the restoration of power-sharing.
The north has been without a properly functioning government for almost 16 months due to the bitter stand-off between the DUP and Sinn Féin over issues including a standalone Irish language act and gay marriage.
After negotiations collapsed in February, Sinn Féin claimed Mrs Foster had signed off on a deal on the Irish language before backing out in the face of an internal party revolt - claims the DUP leader denied.
Earlier, Sinn Féin accused the DUP of "checking out" of power-sharing.
Ms O'Neill said that while she had met Mrs Foster since February, at events to which they had both been invited, she insisted there had been no "meaningful" engagement in the last two-and-a-half months.
"Since the talks collapsed the DUP have been preoccupied by Brexit, they have been preoccupied with their relationship with the Tories at Westminster and they are not engaged in terms of trying to get these institutions up and running again," she said.
"I don't think they should get carried away with their supply and confidence deal, which we all know will be shortlived.
"The effort should be here, it should be on negotiations, it should be on getting these institutions up and running and functioning for all people."
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood expressed concerns that his party's meeting with Mrs Bradley was "only designed as a box ticking exercise".
"The DUP and Sinn Féin are incapable of making this deal," he said.
"Therefore, the British and Irish Governments should re-convene the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference in order that a package of legislation can be jointly agreed. This would finally clear the decks of disagreement, end the deadlock and get us back to work."