Sinn Fein is riven by divisions and virtually incapable of taking decisions behind the scenes at Stormont, the DUP last night claimed.
Responding to Martin McGuinness’s latest attack on Peter Robinson, the DUP branded him “hysterical”.
As the open acrimony at the top of the Executive intensified, Mr McGuinness yesterday launched an extraordinary broadside at his Stormont Castle colleague, accusing Mr Robinson of “dancing to the tune of loyalist extremists” by vetoing the Maze peace centre.
But despite the seemingly poisonous relationship between the two leaders, their department yesterday released a joint statement from them about a “good relations fund” which is supporting a project to bring young people together.
Last night DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds delivered a riposte which will hardly bring to an end the public rowing between the Province’s two dominant parties, as politics becomes more divided in the run-up to May’s elections.
In an attack on Sinn Fein’s famed organisational abilities, he said: “Sinn Fein’s problem is not that they can’t reach agreements with unionists but they can’t take a decision within their own party.”
Mr McGuinness made his comments in an interview with the Irish News in which he said that Mr Robinson’s letter from America last August halting the Maze project had come as a “bolt from the blue – there wasn’t even a phone call”.
He said he was “embarrassed” by the public perception of the Executive as dysfunctional and divided, but quickly added: “That fault’s not mine.”
Mr McGuinness said: “I’ve reached out the hand of friendship to everybody. I’ve bent over backwards and done everything in my power to try and bring the situation forward towards normal politics – but there’s nothing normal about this place.”
And, in a nostalgic comment which has added bite given Ian Paisley’s recent attack on his successor as First Minister, Mr McGuinness said: “The year I spent with Ian Paisley in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister laid a foundation which should have been built upon.”
He claimed that three-quarters of DUP MLAs refuse to acknowledge him in the corridors of Stormont and unenthusiastically described his relationship with Mr Robinson as “a best manageable working relationship”.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said that he “does business with” Mr McGuinness but confirmed that he had minimal dealings with the Deputy First Minister.
And last night the DUP released a lengthy statement from its deputy leader responding to Mr McGuinness.
In it, Mr Dodds claimed that there were divisions within Sinn Fein about the party’s decision to veto the National Crime Agency (NCA) extending to Northern Ireland.
He said that “there are some within Sinn Fein who see that taking a practical and necessary step to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking is the right thing to do. However they are being held back by other elements within that party who simply refuse to accept the realities of life in government.”
Similarly, he claimed that there are “some more rational and sensible individuals within Sinn Fein” who recognise the need for welfare reform, “there are others holding them back because they are not prepared to act like any other normal political party”.
He said that “the increasingly hysterical comments lashing out at anyone within unionism appears to be Martin McGuinness’s way of reassuring a troubled base that all is well in the project towards a united Ireland”.
Mr Dodds added: “Instead of directing these tirades at unionism it’s time that Sinn Fein admitted to their own ranks that decisions on things like welfare reform and the National Crime Agency are the new reality. Unfortunately, however, unless a decision has some direct bearing on a small republican clique what little ability there was for some within Sinn Fein to take sensible decisions appears to have been all but removed.”