A vicious spat erupted between Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness last night as pressure mounted on the First Minister to agree arrangements for the transfer of policing and justice powers to Northern Ireland.
Strained relations between the pair hit a new low after the Deputy First Minister claimed he had been unable to establish a relationship with the DUP leader and branded his recent comments on powersharing scandalous.
The Sinn Fein MP has demanded security responsibilities be transferred from London to Belfast as soon as possible and believed a meeting with Prime Minister Gordon Brown was due this week. Mr Robinson wants to resolve major issues over funding but has said he is committed to devolution when the time is right.
If agreement doesn't happen there could be a real crisis with Westminster elections due next year.
Mr McGuinness said: “I have to record my annoyance at the fact I have not been able to develop a close working relationship with Peter Robinson. That is through no deficiency or lack of effort on my part.
“The DUP need to shake themselves, the DUP need to get real and they have to realise that if we are to move forward we have to move forward on the basis of equality and partnership.”
Mr Robinson hit back saying it was regrettable that Mr McGuinness “continues to publicly make intemperate personal remarks about me”.
“I am surprised that he believes such attacks are likely to help us resolve the issues that we presently face. I am not going to play his game by responding in kind. I will not allow the press to characterise his behaviour as a row between us. It requires both parties to be making nasty and provocative remarks to make it a row,” he said.
“This once again is a one-sided nasty attack. The deputy should try and control himself especially when in public. For my own part I will continue to work steadily and with resolve for all the people of Northern Ireland and I will not be pushed or bullied by anyone.”
The escalating war of words
Martin McGuinness accuses the First Minister of returning from his Florida holiday suffering from sunstroke and spending “too much time at Disneyland” after Peter Robinson proposes a new Assembly voting system.
The DUP leader describes the comments by Mr McGuinness as “cheap and nasty”.
Deputy First minister Mr McGuinness sparks a second war of words when he says: “I have to record my annoyance at the fact I have not been able to develop a close working relationship with Peter Robinson.”
Mr Robinson replies: “This once again is a one-sided, nasty attack. The deputy should try and control himself, especially when in public. For my own part I will continue to work steadily and with resolve for all the people of Northern Ireland and I will not be pushed or bullied by anyone.”