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Rising tempers point towards nasty election tussle in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

A series of squabbles has revealed the potential for a bitter and sectarian election campaign during all of next month.

Northern Ireland's unexpected election campaign was already well under way even before Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced the poll.

The battle was also being fought out on the floor of the Assembly as MLAs awaited the announcement that its final sitting would be on January 26.

And temperatures were rising outside the Assembly chamber yesterday before the starting gun for an election was fired.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, speaking on RTE radio, described former First Minister Arlene Foster as a "backwards person".

And an SDLP press officer also slammed the DUP as "disrespectful cretins" in a remark on Twitter (above).

There was also some consternation on social media when DUP MLA Joanne Bunting displayed her iPad case showing a Union flag, which was clearly visible as Communities Minister Paul Givan addressed the Assembly.

An Assembly spokesperson said: "Members are expected to show respect for the House and demonstrate the expected standards of courtesy, good temper and moderation at all times. This guidance extends to the displaying of emblems in the Chamber."

Mr Givan was himself accused of blatant electioneering as he set out proposals on the controversial bedroom tax set to affect 34,000 households in the province.

The DUP minister said: "Irrespective of the political campaign that will now take place during this election, we must not allow the most vulnerable in our society to pay the price because of the actions of Sinn Fein."

And he went on: "For two and a half years, Sinn Fein refused welfare reform (and) cost the public purse £174m in penalties from the Treasury - money that was lost in public services in two and a half years.

"What did we do when those issues were raised?

"We worked through them, despite the reckless activities of Sinn Fein that cost £174m."

Ulster Unionist Andy Allen asked Mr Givan to cease "politicking" and Alliance leader Naomi Long said she wanted to remind him he was speaking as a minister, not a candidate.

Former Sinn Fein minister Caral Ni Chuilin said, however: "Had Sinn Fein not stood firm to ensure that the most vulnerable were protected and protected properly, irrespective of legislation coming from Westminster, we would all, collectively, have been in a much different position.

"We stood by our convictions and, to the best of our ability, got a deal to protect the most vulnerable."

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon said the thousands affected by the welfare reforms had been "terrified and unable to sleep" while Mr Givan and Sinn Fein Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had "engaged in a battle over the airwaves when they should, despite electioneering that is going on, have held a conversation in public".

Green Party leader Steven Agnew said: "The sham fight that took place between the Finance Minister and the Communities Minister over the bedroom tax was nothing short of a disgrace."

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