Parties' verbals continue
Tensions within the troubled Executive were exacerbated today after verbal onslaughts on Ulster Unionists and the SDLP from the dominant DUP and Sinn Fein.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, employing the language formerly used about his party by the SDLP, labelled both it and the UUP "the problem parties".
And in a heated Assembly debate Finance Minister Peter Robinson repeatedly reiterated that the Executive is a four-party mandatory coalition and both the UUP and SDLP were "in denial".
Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey hit back, however, accusing both the DUP and Sinn Fein of effectively operating a "two-party cabal".
And SDLP leader Mark Durkan said it seemed the two major parties wanted an Assembly of Catholics and Protestants but no dissenters.
While some senior figures privately dismissed the growing row as " posturing", a real rift between the parties, at least over the style and form of administration, appears to be opening up.
Arguing there was a fundamental inconsistency which his party would have to address, Mr Empey said: "On the one hand DUP and Sinn Fein ministers want to be fireproofed and blameless on sensitive and contentious issues such as health cuts and water charges by insisting on unanimity, while on the other they are getting into a two-party cabal and deciding what they want and how to do it," he said.
Mr Robinson, however, insisting there had been no amendments from either of the smaller parties to reduce the Budget in one area and increase another, or changes to the three-year programme for government.
He said: "They are in denial - attempting to pretend they are somehow out of government but at the same time taking the benefits of being in government. This sort of hokey cokey party politics simply won't wash with the people of Northern Ireland."
Ulster Unionists and the SDLP were outraged, however, over Mr Robinson's thinly veiled threat on Monday that the Executive could collapse if agreement on the Budget and programme for government are not reached.
Mr Durkan urged Mr Robinson, First Minister Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness to "calm down" and attempt to achieve the kind of proper accountability they had promised.