A senior DUP MLA has hit back at Martin McGuinness after he accused the DUP leader of “cowardice” over loyalist attacks in east Belfast.
Deputy First Minister Mr McGuinness said Peter Robinson was reluctant to speak out against the paramilitaries for electoral reasons.
However, DUP chief whip Peter Weir dismissed the allegation as an “outrageous statement with no basis in fact”.
Mr Weir said: “Unlike McGuinness, Peter Robinson has a consistent record on support for the rule of law.
“Unlike McGuinness, Peter Robinson has always condemned the actions of the PIRA – an organisation that murdered defenceless men, women and children.
“The DUP has always condemned hate crime regardless of who the victim is or the suspected perpetrator.
“It has no place in our society and those behind it should be prosecuted.”
The fresh row erupted after Mr McGuinness made the comments in a BBC interview – and as the first and deputy first ministers attended the opening ceremony of the Giro d’Italia at Belfast City Hall.
Mr McGuinness claimed there had been a lack of statements from the high-profile DUP representatives condemning what he alleged were UVF-orchestrated attacks on the Alliance Party office in east Belfast and on eastern Europeans living in the area.
He alleged this was because the DUP “want their support in the elections” – describing this as “cowardice of the worst kind”.
Mr McGuinness also said he was disturbed that David Cameron had met Peter Robinson and the DUP on many occasions, but never Sinn Fein as a political party – despite repeated requests for meetings by himself and Gerry Adams.
Responding specifically to the Deputy First Minister’s comments on the meetings with Mr Cameron, Mr Weir added: “As for the Sinn Fein complaint that Peter Robinson met with the Prime Minister, our meeting last week was to discuss compensation from Libya for its role in supplying Semtex to Martin’s friends in the PIRA.
“The DUP will continue to lobby the Prime Minister and the Government on this important issue,” the chief whip said.