Stormont leaders move to deny political rift

First Minister Peter Riobinson (right) with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
First Minister Peter Riobinson (right) with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness moved today to deny a developing rift over political powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness identified a lack of cohesion between unionist and republican ministers during his Sinn Fein party’s annual conference (ard fheis) recently.

Mr Robinson has accused his government coalition partners of being paralysed by nationalist critics over key pieces of Stormont legislation. Today Mr McGuinness admitted to occasional disagreements with the First Minister but said they resolved them.

“We are well-rounded individuals, we have the ability to sit down and have recent dialogue and discussions about things that we need to do,” he said.

“We have been very intensively involved in trying to get agreement on a range of discussions that will bring enormous benefit.”

DUP leader Mr Robinson blamed the media for overplaying tensions and said nobody should be surprised that they occasionally had a different viewpoint.

“We come from very different political parties with different ideologies, different backgrounds, the remarkable thing is that we reach agreement on so many issues,” he said during an event at the Titanic Belfast visitor’s centre.

“The issue is not so much that we find something we disagree on, the issue is that we manage to resolve it.”

He added: “This is a new era , people are living in a very different Northern Ireland than the one that Martin and I grew up in, we have a massive potential for the future and we are absolutely determined that we are going to lead this country through to peace and stability.”

The parties have held talks on disputes over issues like welfare reform and the ministerial executive’s draft shared future policy.

This month DUP Health Minister Edwin Poots said relations between the two parties were at their most strained since power-sharing began, accusing Sinn Fein of sending out mixed messages on dissidents, while frustrating executive business.

Mr Robinson pledged to take steps to promote a shared future for children in Northern Ireland after criticising the authors of a recent report on education.

He said it was difficult to find ways of acting on the recommendations of the Queens University Belfast (QUB)-led panel and said its call for academic selection to be made illegal showed the bias of its authors.

“I felt there was an absence of pioneering zeal on the part of the team that produced the report, there were no real action points to be taken,” he said.

“We are going to have to look to take steps ourselves to try to move this forward.

“It is important for the future of Northern Ireland that we have our children growing up together and being educated together so that they don’t think in the fashion of them and us.”