DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said he was not aware of any agreement which Sinn Fein allegedly struck with the UK Government to release funding for legacy inquests.
It comes after Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly claimed that funding had been agreed as part of the mooted ‘draft deal’ reached during the negotiations to restore devolution.
The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan has requested funding to deal with Troubles-related inquests.
Mr Kelly told the BBC NI’s The View programme that London had agreed to release the money.
But Sir Jeffrey – the DUP’s representative on legacy issues – said: “No such proposal was put to me and I most certainly am not aware of any agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the UK Government to hand over money for legacy inquests.”
Mr Kelly said he had proof of his party’s agreement with the government to release inquest funding.
“There are victims and survivors waiting - some of them over 45-46 years - give them some respite,” he said.
“Give the money to the Lord Chief Justice, he has nothing to do with politics, let him get on with that.”
The North Belfast MLA also claimed the government had agreed that a public consultation on plans to deal with legacy issues would not include a proposal for a statute of limitations on prosecutions for Trouble-related killings.
The DUP has been seeking such a move, which would amount to a de facto amnesty for security force members involved in the Troubles. The party has pressed ahead with its support for a statute of limitations, despite concerns from their leader, Arlene Foster that it could lead to a general amnesty which extends to terrorists.
There have been reports that during the negotiations to restore devolution, Sinn Fein held separate meetings with the government on legacy inquests, while the DUP held its own negotiations with the government about the Military Covenant.
On BBC Radio Foyle this morning, Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney claimed Mrs Foster and the DUP negotiating team knew about the legacy agreement with the government.
However, in a statement issued this morning, Mrs Foster said: “No one in the DUP was aware of inquest funding being progressed in the absence of an overall agreement or a decision to advance all elements of the Stormont House Agreement.” UUP justice spokesperson, Doug Beattie MLA has accused the two main parties of “seedy back-door self-interest” and labelled the talks process a “farce”.
He added: “Was Jeffrey Donaldson kept in the dark by his party’s negotiating team? Did Arlene Foster know? And if so, why did she decide not to tell her justice spokesperson and allow him to be humiliated live on television?
“It is clear no lessons been learned from previous talks processes and the malign influence of side deals and the seedy back door self-interest deals we in the Ulster Unionist Party warned about.
“The devastating impact of the awarding of 200 ‘On The Run’ Letters should have served as a stark warning as to what can happen when side deals are entertained, particularly between British Governments and Sinn Fein.”
Calling for “openness and transparency”, Mr Beattie added: “The people of Northern Ireland – who are being treated with contempt by the DUP and Sinn Fein - need to know exactly what has been agreed and what the implications are.
“The problem is that even if a deal is agreed, then we don’t know what other side deals may also have been agreed, but which are not disclosed to the public.”