Peter Robinson’s jibe at Jim Allister over the sale of his late brother-in-law’s land last night rebounded on the First Minister, with growing cross-party condemnation of his comments.
The First Minister stunned the Assembly on Monday when he alleged that Mr Allister “secretly... as the executor of a will is selling land to republicans in Co Fermanagh to benefit his own family”.
Mr Allister immediately accused the DUP leader of a “damnable lie” and later accused Mr Robinson of a “malicious falsehood”, saying that he was neither the executor of the will nor a beneficiary.
Yesterday Mr Robinson’s comments — which relate to the farm of Mr Allister’s wife’s late brother, who died of cancer last year — were condemned by the UUP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and Alliance Party.
Last night one DUP source questioned the wisdom of Mr Robinson’s intervention, suggesting that starting a debate about whether Mr Allister should have had any role in selling land to republicans, even if it had been accurate, was “beneath” a First Minister who wanted to move Northern Ireland forward.
And a relative involved in the sale of the land called on Mr Robinson to withdraw his accusations. The man, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC: “I’m appalled that Peter Robinson has sought to make political capital out of our late relative’s death. I hope he apologises for the hurt. His point of order besmirched the wider family.”
The relative also said he was appalled by “the glee” with which DUP MLAs greeted the comments — both Mr Robinson and Jonathan Bell were visibly shaking with laughter as Mr Allister protested that what had just been said was untruthful — and called for an apology.
It was noticeable on Monday that the recently removed Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, was present on the DUP back benches both immediately before and soon after First Minister’s Questions, where Mr Robinson’s jibe was made. Over the summer it was rumoured that Mr Wilson played a key role in pressing Mr Robinson to react to growing unionist anger at plans for a Maze peace centre, prior to Mr Robinson’s sudden abandonment of the project.
A victim of the IRA said that Mr Robinson’s attack on Mr Allister was “disgusting”. Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was murdered by the IRA as she left Mass, said that she did not care whether land was sold to republicans and asked: “What has that got to do with the price of chips or indeed putting a victim centre at the Maze? I would have thought better of the DUP to stoop as childishly low as this; they are the ones happy to sit in government with Sinn Fein.”
Fermanagh UUP MLA Tom Elliott said that Mr Robinson’s actions had been damaging to the office which he holds, saying that he was “supposedly a statesman”.
The SDLP’s Alex Attwood asked whether Mr Robinson believed that property should not be sold to Catholics or republicans while Sinn Fein’s Sean Lynch said that his comments were “like something you’d have heard in the 1960s” and again called for him to clarify the remarks.