UUP leader Sir Reg Empey last night accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of a " two-party cabal".
Reflecting UUP frustration over claims the two main parties are operating a coalition within the coalition of the Executive, the Executive minister said there was a "fundamental inconsistency" at the heart of the administration which the UUP was deciding how to tackle.
"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," the Employment and Learning minister said. "This is a fundamental inconsistency that needs to be addressed. The UUP are currently exploring options."
His attack came after DUP deputy leader Peter Robinson criticised both UUP and SDLP MLAs for backing Alliance criticism of the three-year Programme for Government when their ministers, including Sir Reg, helped draw it up.
After the debate, Finance Minister Mr Robinson said: "We operate in a mandatory coalition, as a result of the (Good Friday Agreement) structures negotiated by the UUP and SDLP. The principle of coalition government is that there is collective decision making. Therefore the Programme for Government must be agreed by all parties as the basis for government. If all governing parties cannot agree the Programme for Government there will be no government."
But Sir Reg retorted: "We are now beginning to see signs of control freakery being exhibited. We regret Mr Robinson's thinly veiled threats (in which he) implies that there is a four-party coalition at Stormont.
"The reality is much different. A coalition, by definition, is where the parties of government come together to agree an agenda for implementation. At no time since May 8 (when devolution was restored) have the leaders of the parties represented in the Executive met to discuss, let alone agree an agenda. The confidentiality requirement means ministers are inhibited from sharing fully with their parties emerging proposals on policy. "
Sir Reg said the Assembly is currently debating drafts of the Programme for Government and budget which would allow alternative viewpoints to be aired.
He added: "The threats from certain ministers to attempt to stifle debate by threatening the collapse of the government if these matters are not agreed to their liking reeks of throwing all the toys out of the pram and is a dagger to the heart of the democratic process."