Peter Robinson’s decision to step aside and withdraw most of his party’s ministers from the Executive has been branded a “smokescreen” by Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt.
He said: “Peter Robinson clearly cannot make a decision as to whether he wants be in or out of the Executive. On Wednesday he said the DUP ministers would leave the Executive en masse, yet only 24 hours later his position has shifted to only some of his ministers resigning.
“In fact he has not even resigned himself, opting to use the idiosyncrasy of standing aside. Few people will see this as anything but a smokescreen.”
Mr Nesbitt said his DUP counterpart was guily of “incredibly weak leadership,” and added: “Instead of the focus remaining firmly on Sinn Fein, people are now trying to determine exactly what this latest example of DUP manoeuvring actually means.
“Given the financial shambles that the DUP and Sinn Fein have presided over, and which has continued at pace under Arlene Foster, it is obvious that she has only been appointed as presiding First Minister for no other reason than to allow the DUP to cling on to the reins of power.
“If Peter Robinson was so concerned about the actions of the remaining Sinn Fein ministers he should have resigned.
“Under the Northern Ireland Act if either one of the joint First Ministers resign, the other automatically ceases to hold office.”
The Ulster Unionist Party withdrew its only minister – Danny Kennedy – from the Executive earlier this month following the chief constable’s assertion that members of the Provisional IRA murdered Kevin McGuigan in east Belfast.
Commenting on the overall crisis in the power-sharing institutions, the party leader said the Executive “needs surgery rather than a sticking plaster”.
Mr Nesbitt said: “This is a about a murder. It is about the status of a terrorist organisation in 2015. And it is about the denial of that by a party of government - Sinn Fein. That’s why we withdrew from the Executive. We were not prepared to turn a blind eye.
“Since then public opinion has quickly coalesced around the fact this Executive is broken and is not delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. An adjournment is not a fix. Peter Robinson was proposing some sort of sticking plaster.
“What we really need is surgery.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also hit out at Peter Robinson, accusing the First Minister of a “shameless breach of promise” by effectively keeping Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in office.
“This is because resignation by the First Minister would have taken the deputy First Minister out of office as well.”
Mr Allister referred to the relevant section of the 1998 Northern Ireland Act that states that if one of the two resigns then “the other shall also cease to hold office at that time”.
Mr Allister added: “So, by breaking his word the DUP leader has instead of punishing Sinn Fein rewarded McGuinness by keeping him in office.
“Clearly, the DUP is trying to keep the failed institutions in place, with the suggestion that Arlene Foster is being retained as a ‘gatekeeper’ being a nonsense cover for their duplicity.”
• Stormont has been criticised for its lack of decision-making, but MLAs on Thursday took a firm decision — to reinstate free tea and coffee at their committee meetings.
In a decision far removed from the critical decisions over the future of the entire Stormont edifice, MLAs on the Assembly’s Social Development Committee formally voted that the committee should be provided with hot beverages.
The cost is estimated to be a few hundred pounds per year.
Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson of Alliance told the committee: “It might be helpful to have a cup of tea or coffee to commence the meeting.”
The TUV leader Jim Allister said that he thought members of the committee would “survive without it”.
He highlighted the costs involved, saying: “It costs £500 of taxpayers’ money.”
With considerable understatement, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs said: “It’s not the biggest problem we face at the moment.”
The committee’s Sinn Fein deputy chairman, Fra McCann, put it to members: “People in favour of the reintroduction of tea and coffee on the committee – can they put their hands up please?”
The UUP’s Roy Beggs, Alliance’s Stewart Dickson and the DUP’s Paula Bradley all voted in favour.
The TUV’s Jim Allister, was the only MLA on the committee to vote against the proposal.