A “lie from Hell” row between the two main Unionist leaders could be heading to the courts.
The DUP confirmed Peter Robinson is consulting his lawyers after Tom Elliott refused to withdraw a claim that the First Minister praised Sinn Fein’s Caitriona Ruane as “great”.
But Ulster Unionist chief Elliott said it was “unfortunate” the DUP has elected to seek a legal remedy over a political issue and made clear he would not be going down the same route.
The bitter spat erupted last week during a leaders’ debate, when Mr Elliott accused Mr Robinson of saying Education Minister Ruane was “great”.
His charge was based on a Belfast Telegraph interview in which Mr Robinson singled out Ms Ruane’s department, along with her Sinn Fein colleague Conor Murphy and two DUP ministers, for praise, in contrast to UUP Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.
“All of them are (having to contemplate things) they would never choose to but I haven’t heard them whingeing in the community,” he said.
That led, during last Thursday’s debate, to Mr Elliott saying “Even you, Peter, said: ‘The minister for Education’s great’”.
Mr Robinson demanded he produce the quote and shouted: “That is a lie, an absolute unmitigated lie ... a lie from Hell.”
Flanked by Mr McGimpsey and Danny Kennedy, Mr Elliott yesterday said he wanted to refute any suggestion it was a “lie from Hell” and insisted he would stand over his remarks.
“If you praise a minister you are putting them on a pedestal, giving them approval and acclaim, which is how the dictionary defines ‘great’,” he said.
Mr McGimpsey said he believed voters saw “serious waste” in the governance system, such as the failure to save millions of pounds by down-sizing the 26 councils to 11, and yet Sinn Fein and DUP could not deliver.
Less than an hour after the Press conference, Mr Robinson countered: “Tom Elliott is becoming increasingly desperate in his attempts to reinvigorate the UUP election campaign.”
A DUP spokesman said Mr Robinson “is happy to leave this with his lawyers”, but insisted: “We are not wanting to make too much of a fuss.”
In a Belfast Telegraph interview in February, Peter Robinson praised Sinn Fein ministers Caitriona Ruane and Conor Murphy, along with his own party’s Edwin Poots and Arlene Foster — contrasting their performance with the “whingeing” of Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey. The others showed budgetary discipline, he said.