Latest: Sinn Féin has accused the DUP of showing a reckless disregard for the Good Friday Agreement after leader Arlene Foster claimed the peace deal was not sacrosanct.
Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald insisted the 1998 accord between the Irish and UK Governments must not become a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.
She reacted angrily after Mrs Foster suggested the terms of the agreement could be altered in efforts to strike an EU exit deal.
“Today’s comments by DUP leader Arlene Foster on the Good Friday Agreement are unacceptable and reveal a reckless disregard for the peace process, prosperity and progress,” said Mrs McDonald.
Critics of Brexit on the island of Ireland have warned of its potential to undermine aspects of the international treaty, including its provisions for cross-border co-operation and rights protections.
The DUP campaigned against the Good Friday Agreement when it was resoundingly endorsed in referenda on both sides of the border in 1998.
Elements of the deal have been altered by subsequent political agreements in Northern Ireland, such as the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.
“There has been a lot of misinterpretation, holding it up as a sacrosanct piece of legislation.”
In response, Mrs McDonald called on the Government to make clear that the terms of the deal would be protected.
“It should be remembered that Arlene Foster left the UUP, which supported the Good Friday Agreement, to join the anti-agreement DUP,” she added.
“It appears the DUP leader has learnt nothing over the past 15 years.”
Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. The actions of the DUP and their deal with the Tories is bad for our economy and undermines the rights of citizen
The latest row between the DUP and Sinn Féin comes amid the ongoing political impasse in Northern Ireland following the collapse of the powersharing institutions in early 2017.
“The Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the vast majority of people north and south,” said the Sinn Fein president.
“It is the people’s agreement and not a chip to be bargained with as part of any Tory/DUP Brexit deal.
“Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement. The actions of the DUP and their deal with the Tories is bad for our economy and undermines the rights of citizens.
“The DUP should commit to the full implementation of the Good Friday, and other agreements, rather than seeking to undermine them.
“This would unlock the pathway to re-establishing the political institutions and safeguarding the interests of all the people in the north.”
The Good Friday Agreement (also known as the Belfast Agreement) enshrines the “consent principle” that Northern Ireland’s position within the UK can only change if a majority of the region’s citizens vote for it.
Ulster Unionist Party leader Robin Swann claimed Mrs Foster’s comments potentially undermined that principle.
“Arlene Foster’s comments on the Belfast Agreement are strategically shortsighted,” he said.
“The DUP may have been happy to corrupt the 1998 agreement for their owns ends at St Andrews, but I cannot believe the DUP leader has been so careless as to throw it open in such a haphazard way which is of no benefit to unionism.
“The reality is that the principle of consent is what binds us to the United Kingdom, it is the best settlement for unionists and should be sacrosanct.”
Arlene Foster has said that the Good Friday Agreement could be altered to accommodate a Brexit deal.
The DUP leader said that making sure the North is not treated any differently to the rest of the UK after Brexit is the DUP's priority.
She claimed the peace deal was not a “sacrosanct piece of legislation.”
She told the Telegraph newspaper: “It has been deeply frustrating to hear people who voted remain and in Europe talk about Northern Ireland as though we can’t touch the Belfast Agreement.
“Things evolve, even in the EU context."
She claimed it was a “misinterpretation” to hold the Belfast peace agreement up as sacrosanct.
Ms Foster said: "Nobody wants to see a no-deal situation and that's why we've been supporting the Prime Minister in trying to get a deal with the European Union.
"It's been a very difficult time in terms of the negotiations, but it's very important for me, obviously for Northen Ireland, to ensure there are no borders created internally in terms of the United Kingdom, and that really has been what we are talking about this week."
Sinn Féin have said her comments are "reckless", with the party's leader, Mary Lou McDonald, saying the Good Friday Agreement cannot be used as a "bargaining chip" in negotiations.
Sinn Féin Brexit spokesperson David Cullinane said it is a very worrying development.
“All of the rhetoric that has come from the British Government and the British Prime Minister up to now has been that there will be no border and there will be no inspections or checks at the border,” he said.
“That has been made clear time and again by Theresa May.
“So if there is a change in Government policy she needs to say it and she has to come out and be very clear and very honest with people.”
- Digital Desk