Sinn Fein has evaded claims that a paper focusing on “innocent victims” was passed between Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster as part of recent failed political talks.
Last week DUP leader Mrs Foster appeared to suggest that an unpublished paper dealing with “treatment of innocent victims” had been exchanged with Sinn Fein.
Journalist Eamon Mallie caused controversy when he published a draft text from the recent talks, which were aimed at restoring power-sharing.
Mrs Foster was then forced to clarify her party’s role in the process – and the draft text which had not been finalised.
Mr Mallie’s published text – it is uncertain if it covered all issues discussed in talks – makes a brief reference to “victims” only and makes no mention of the term “innocent”.
It contained just a few lines on victims, affirming that the parties would “recognise the hurt caused in the past and commit to showing greater sensitivity towards victims and survivors and; That they will respect victims and survivors in the public actions and statements by party representatives.”
But on Monday last week, Mrs Foster appeared to suggest that a separate draft paper may have been exchanged with Sinn Fein specifically on the “treatment of innocent victims”.
She said in a statement: “During the course of those [failed] 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.”
The deal fell through at the last minute amid claims that the DUP grassroots rejected Irish language proposals, which the party firmly denies.
But Sinn Fein has sidestepped any suggestion there had been a paper on “innocent victims”.
“Arlene Foster handed the DUP’s copy of the draft agreement to Michelle O’Neill,” a party spokesman told the News Letter.
“There is clearly no reference to the issues raised by Arlene Foster in her statement contained within the draft agreement the DUP presented to Sinn Fein to sign off on.
“These latest comments are more of the distraction politics being engaged in by the DUP and they have a responsibility to victims to come clean.”
But Innocent Victims United spokesman Kenny Donaldson was not so sure.
“We give a cautious welcome to the statement made by Arlene Foster in which she advises that papers which obviously will have contained proposals for the ‘treatment of innocent victims’ were shared as part of the recent talks process,” he said. “We are however unclear as to the content and obviously we are aware that no formalised agreement was made.”
Victims’ campaigner Willie Frazer went further. He insisted there were indeed more talks about innocent victims than were published, adding “there is other stuff that Eamon Mallie has not got his hands on”.
UUP MLA Doug Beattie called on the DUP to end the speculation.
“Once again I repeat the Ulster Unionist Party’s call for the DUP to disclose exactly what it was talking to Sinn Fein about in the interests of clarity,” he said.
The DUP declined to offer any comment.