Martin McGuinness accuses Peter Robinson of 'cowardice of the worst kind' over loyalist attacks in east Belfast
A week of political tensions at the top of Stormont continued yesterday with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness accusing First Minister Peter Robinson of "cowardice of the worst kind".
The attack came in the wake of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams' arrest, questioning and subsequent release by police investigating the murder of mother-of-10 Jean McConville in 1972.
Despite the jibe, just hours after the Deputy First Minister had insulted his Executive partner, the two leaders stood shoulder to shoulder as they welcomed the Giro d'Italia extravaganza to Belfast City Hall.
Mr McGuinness also accused the DUP leader of showing "no leadership whatsoever" in his East Belfast constituency after the recent rise in racist attacks in the area, which have been blamed on the UVF.
The Sinn Fein man claimed there had been no condemnation of the attacks on migrant workers or on the Alliance Party offices by any DUP politician above the level of councillor.
Alliance has been targeted by loyalists in the wake of the Belfast City Hall vote to restrict the flying of the Union flag.
Mr McGuinness claimed the limited DUP response was for electoral reasons.
"This is a man who has shown no leadership whatsoever in East Belfast," he said of Mr Robinson.
"I challenge anybody to show me a statement from any of them condemning the activity of the UVF, who were involved in it.
"They haven't done it. Why have they not done it?
"Because they obviously want their vote in the election. And that, in my opinion, is cowardice of the worst kind."
Later yesterday, as the political leaders smiled for the cameras and welcomed one of the world's biggest cycling events to Belfast, Mr Robinson was reluctant to comment directly on the dispute.
Speaking at City Hall, he said: "We will respond in due course but I think everybody recognises what tonight is about, it's the showcase event for the start of the Giro d'Italia. I don't think dragging those kind of controversial issues to an evening like this is the right thing to do."
He added: "We come from a very troubled past in Northern Ireland, there are clearly divisive issues still there to be dealt with. We are not running away from them, we are not burying our heads in the sand – they will be dealt with."