Sinn Fein yesterday claimed that the Stormont system is in “crisis” as republicans put pressure on the DUP to reverse its abandonment of the Maze peace centre.
The claim from Gerry Kelly came hours after Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams had used a speech in the Dail to attack Peter Robinson’s performance as First Minister, accusing him of a “lack of political leadership”.
In recent years, direct attacks by Sinn Fein on Mr Robinson and by the DUP on Martin McGuinness have become rare as the parties worked closely together in Stormont Castle.
But a deteriorating relationship ever since the protests following the removal of the Union Flag as a permanent fixture on Belfast City Hall almost a year ago has further soured since Mr Robinson’s dramatic letter from America last month which revealed that the DUP was vetoing the Maze peace centre.
In that letter, Mr Robinson repeatedly lashed out at Sinn Fein for its continued glorification of the IRA and, in particular, the IRA commemoration in Castlederg last month.
Yesterday, Mr Kelly – whose speech in Castlederg infuriated many in the DUP – took part in a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster’s Nolan Show.
The North Belfast MLA said “We are in a crisis”, adding: “We are in partnership government.
“That hasn’t been manifested, especially in the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and in the relationship between the First and Deputy First Ministers.
“The government works on the basis of power-sharing – that has to be a leadership of power-sharing; everything in that office has to be by consensus.”
DUP MP and MLA Gregory Campbell, who was also on the programme, accused Sinn Fein of talking up a crisis.
“Sinn Fein seem to want to have a republican agenda going on at the heart of what they want and if they don’t get what they want then they throw everything out of the pram,” he said.
“Well, that’s not going to happen. If they want to talk up a crisis, that’s a matter for them.”
A spokesman for the DUP said: “We have had problems in the past. It is about sitting down and working through those problems.”
Mr Campbell described the relationship between Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness as “workmanlike”.
But Mr Kelly said it was “not workmanlike”.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Mr Adams said: “When Martin McGuinness stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Peter Robinson and the Chief Constable after so-called dissidents killed PSNI officers and British soldiers, he was leading in an assertive, robust and clear manner.
“Why has Peter Robinson not stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Martin McGuinness and done exactly the same thing?”
Robinson: There’s no crisis
Peter Robinson last night denied there was a crisis at Stormont, saying that all those involved needed to “cool their jets”.
The First Minister said that the DUP was “disgruntled” about some issues and Sinn Fein was disgruntled about others but said he didn’t have the sense that “anyone has the intention to bring down the institutions”.
He insisted that there “are no alternatives for the people of Northern Ireland” if Stormont falls.
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt also said that there was no crisis, despite the “spat”, and added: “There is just some competitive posturing between Sinn Fein and the DUP.”
Mr Nesbitt said that there were questions over whether the DUP actually wanted to share power and share space. He said that the UUP did want that because it was best for the future of Northern Ireland.