Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny was in east Belfast this morning, meeting politicians and community groups at the start of a two day visit to the city.
The visit marks a return to business for First Minister Peter Robinson who this week threatened to resign if Justice Minister David Ford allows prison reform that could remove royal insignia and titles from the region's jails.
The East Belfast MLA told party colleagues: “It will not happen on my watch, let's make this very clear.”
Mr Robinson said he was astonished by the proposed change in British symbols.
“I have had a series of meetings with the Prison Review Group. I have seen their report. There was no mention during any meeting that I have had with them, nor was there any recommendation in their report, that there would be any change to either the name or to the badge so this came completely out of the blue.
“David Ford has never mentioned it to me on any occasion.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader said that if Mr Ford tied the proposed changes in symbolism to his reform programme, than the entire process could be compromised.
Mr Ford said no decision |had yet been taken but asked MLAs to work together to agree on the much-needed reform of the prison system.
Tuesday’s debate was intended to examine 40 recommendations made by Dame Anne Owers in her report on prisons in Northern Ireland but was dominated by the angry exchanges on the service’s name and symbol.
DUP MLA Councillor Robin Newton said he was not surprised by Mr Robinson’s threat: “It’s an indication of the strength of feeling of the legacy of the name change of the RUC.”
He said the difference was that the changes to the RUC were imposed under direct rule whereas in this instance, Assembly members would be able to fight any such move.
The row is unlikely to improve relations between some unionist politicians and the Alliance Party in east Belfast.
“I think it is possible that where you would wish that all elected representatives would work together for the good of the community when you see such initiatives coming forward without one jot of consultation you could expect that it creates new division,” said Mr Newton.
East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said Mr Ford had delivered the first devolved justice legislation in 40 years, Youth Justice and Community Safety reform and was now engaged in a programme of reform to reduce reoffending and improve staffing arrangements in the service.
“I recognise the issue of symbols is sensitive; however, as no decisions have been taken and no proposals exist in relation to symbols, I, along with many other others, have been surprised by some of the comments made on this matter.
“The real challenge for elected representatives is for us to work together on this and priority issues such as; health, education and job creation in order to deliver the leadership and outcomes our community wants and needs,” added Mr Lyttle.
Mr Kenny’s first port of call was expected to be Stormont Castle for a meeting with Mr Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness. He was also scheduled to visit community projects in the Newtownards Road and the Short Strand as well as being welcomed to Belfast City Hall by the Lord Mayor, east Belfast councillor Niall O’Donnghaile.