Arlene Foster denies handing over 'draft agreement' to Sinn Fein
DUP leader Arlene Foster has denied handing Sinn Féin Michelle O'Neill a "draft agreement" to restore power-sharing just days before pulling the plug on talks.
Mrs Foster issued a statement after Mrs O'Neill insisted she had given her a hard copy of a proposed deal on Friday February 9, five days before the DUP's Valentine's Day walkout.
The Sinn Féin Stormont leader's account came after a leaked email between senior party aides suggested Mrs Foster passed her such a document.
The exchange, published last week by the veteran journalist Eamonn Mallie, challenged the DUP's insistence that it had not agreed the framework of a deal with Sinn Féin that would have seen devolution return.
The party has been accused of getting cold feet at the final hour in the face of an revolt from grassroots members angry about potential concessions to Sinn Féin on the vexed issue of the Irish language.
Mrs Foster during the course of those negotiations "draft papers were exchanged between Michelle O'Neill and I on an almost daily basis".
"I have a lever arch folder containing them. Some related to the Irish language, others related to treatment of innocent victims and others to how Sinn Féin ministers would implement the military covenant.
"None of those draft papers had any standing. They were an exchange of ideas between negotiating teams."
The DUP leader said that she can "categorically state there was never any agreement reached".
"Even the documentation selectively leaked by Sinn Féin shows square brackets thus demonstrating there was no agreement.
"Even commentators have recognised the document in circulation was not agreed. Indeed, on the Friday in question, I released a statement saying 'good progress made but more work still to do.'
"Neither was any draft agreement handed over by me to Sinn Féin. Given the state of play, it is highly surprising that such a statement should be made."
Mrs Foster added that arguing on the "negotiation scraps" meant serious issues facing the region in the absence of devolution were being ignored.
Earlier yesterday, Mrs O'Neill had been asked about the contents of the leaked email after holding talks with EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.
"I can confirm that Arlene Foster did hand me a hard copy of a document which was then subsequently emailed to Stephen McGlade who works with me in the office," she said.
"It was a culmination of a lot of work, it was the outworking of all the negotiation which we participated in in good faith and to me when she handed me the document that was in fact the draft agreement in which we were working on.
"We know where we had got to, we had after 14 months found a way forward, there was a basis to restore the institutions.
"So only the DUP leadership, and whoever is in charge of the DUP, can talk about who actually and why they failed to close the deal.
"I am 100% sure, I am crystal clear that we had a draft agreement and had found a way forward," added the Sinn Féin vice-president.