05 March 2018
This day last year a new Executive should have been formed but Sinn Fein blocked it and have now set on a path of wrecking any attempt to restore devolution.
I am willing to form a government without any preconditions.
The latest round of Talks ended with no agreement because Sinn Fein wanted a one-sided deal rather than a fair and balanced settlement.
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 Fein Ministers would implement the military covenant.
None of those draft papers had any standing. They were an exchange of ideas between negotiating teams.
I can categorically state there was never any agreement reached. Even the documentation selectively leaked by Sinn Fein 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 Fein. Given the state of play, it is highly surprising that such a statement should be made.
With little present prospect of devolution, I am now focused on delivering for Northern Ireland through Westminster. To that end, the Government should set a budget and also make key decisions about our roads, schools and hospitals.
Arguing over the negotiation scraps ignores the serious issues which need addressed.