Tension between the DUP and Sinn Fein over a proposed shake-up of the Assembly voting system looks set to escalate today.
In an article for the Belfast Telegraph, First Minister Peter Robinson refused to back down on the need for change despite the strong opposition of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
In the first public indication of bad blood between them, the senior republican said his partner-in-power-sharing must have suffered sunstroke or spent too much time in Disneyland during a Florida holiday, remarks Mr Robinson branded “cheap and nasty”.
But with the new Assembly term under way the spat shows no signs of fading. The DUP leader insisted the debate he has initiated — on replacing the current ‘cross community’ arrangements with a weighted 65% majority — will not finish until changes are made.
And he has hit back at criticism of his demands from opposite ends of the political spectrum — Sinn Fein and the hardline Traditional Unionist Voice, led by former colleague Jim Allister.
Mr Robinson argued deadlock is the almost inevitable outcome of effectively giving two parties a permanent veto “but a modest change to the arrangements at Stormont could make a big |difference to decision-making”. Attacking Sinn Fein for arguing in favour of no change, Mr Robinson said they are “so tied to party political diktats that they want flawed arrangements to remain intact. We do not believe political dogma should hinder parties from seeking to overhaul deficiencies”.
And referring to Mr Allister he said those who argue devolution should be abandoned altogether because the current system is not perfect, meaning a return to direct rule, would bring about even worse arrangements. “The greater absurdity is that these people have no strategy capable of reaching any acceptable outcome,” the East Belfast MP claimed.
Sinn Fein, however, insists the mechanism change would allow the DUP to ‘gang up’ with the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance to marginalise republicans and points out the architecture of the Assembly was core to the Good Friday Agreement.
Foyle MLA Martina Anderson said: “The European election result showed Sinn Féin are now the biggest party in the North in terms of first preference votes. This may not sit comfortably with the SDLP or DUP but it’s a reality they’re going to have to get used to. They can try and artificially engineer situations to attack Sinn Féin but they will not be allowed to undermine the will of the people.”