Progressive Unionist leader Dawn Purvis used her weekend party conference speech to attack the DUP and Sinn Fein and defend Chief Constable Sir Hugh Orde.
“Rome burned while Nero fiddled,” is how the MLA summed up the current state of the political process as she addressed delegates in Belfast.
“While our community is struggling with rising food prices, oil, gas and electricity prices going through the roof and in the grip of what has been termed the credit crunch, the DUP and Sinn Fein are fiddling about over issues that whilst difficult to resolve, they will not put food on the table or oil in the tank,” she said.
“For the last year both the DUP and Sinn Fein have worked really hard. They have worked really hard to make unionist and republican dissidents relevant.”
She added Sir Hugh Orde was right to point up the dangers of a political vacuum. The PSNI chief wants the issue of the devolution of policing and justice powers settled.
“The chief constable is right when he strays into politics because politics and conflict here are inextricably linked,” Ms Purvis said.
“When police officers are being targeted and the impasse in the political process is a part of the cause, then Sir Hugh Orde is fully justified in any commentary or criticisms he makes of our politicians.
“He is expressing the frustration of the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland — and their message is clear, ‘get on with it’.”
She said there are members of the DUP “that don't want a Catholic about the place” and “there are those in Sinn Fein who don't want a Brit or a British symbol about the place”.
Guest speaker was former assistant chief constable Peter Sheridan, who challenged loyalists to think outside their own community as the process of peace building develops.
The chief executive of Co-operation Ireland was delivering a lecture in memory of former RUC officer turned loyalist killer Billy McCaughey.
Mr Sheridan, the most senior Catholic to have served in the police here, said he could have turned down the invitation to speak but peace was never achieved by taking the easy option.
He said he “would never have been on the same side” as McCaughey but stories suggested the ex-PUP activist had changed and was more forward-looking before his death.
Mr Sheridan urged PUP members to examine their individual contribution in changing attitudes.
“Deep within your own heart, how at ease with difference are you?” he asked.
“What have you personally done to promote reconciliation and conflict transformation?”
Delegates were told that Northern Ireland was now interdependent and real leaders must develop trust and help transform the economic outlook.
“One-sided victory is no longer relevant, we must work to resolve conflicts in a spirit of reconciliation, always keeping in mind the interest of others.”
McCaughey, who was jailed for the 1977 murder of Catholic chemist William Strathern in Ahoghill, became a PUP activist and community worker after leaving prison.