Secretary of State Owen Paterson has branded a Sinn Fein protest against Government spending cuts as “childish” and “absolutely pathetic”.
Mr Paterson's outburst occurred as Sinn Fein also came under fire at the Assembly over the delay in agreeing a new Budget for Northern Ireland.
Party members staged a protest in Derry yesterday when Mr Paterson paid a visit to address civic and business leaders.
Banners objecting to ‘Tory cuts’ were brandished outside the White Horse Hotel event.
Sinn Fein Derry councillor Paul Fleming attended the protest and also challenged Mr Paterson inside during questions after the Conservative Secretary of State had delivered his keynote speech.
Mr Fleming said some of what was said sounded “a bit like Tory arrogance”, adding: “It wouldn't be the first time we faced that down here.” Mr Paterson responded: “This is absolutely pathetic — bleating on about Tory cuts. This is a coalition.
“We have inherited a grotesque mess from a Labour Government. It is childish to characterise this as Tory cuts.”
Meanwhile, the Stormont Executive met yesterday, with no sign of imminent agreement among ministers over a new budget.
The devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have announced their budgets, leaving Northern Ireland lagging behind.
DUP ministers have been pressing for the Stormont process to be finalised urgently to give Government departments certainty on their funding.
But Sinn Fein has been arguing that the discussions should not be hurried and should not result in
a “cuts Budget”. Executive Ministers are required to agree a draft Budget which will be the subject of a public consultation process lasting at least eight weeks.
The finalised Budget will cover four years starting next April.
UUP finance spokesman David McNarry yesterday claimed Sinn Fein was planning to contest next May's Assembly election under the banner of fighting Tory cuts.
Mr McNarry also said: “If Sinn Fein succeeds and no Budget is agreed, then we may as well turn off the lights at Stormont, pack up and go home in disgrace — because they will have abdicated their responsibility.”
SDLP Foyle MP Mark Durkan accused Sinn Fein of double standards over yesterday's protest against cuts.
Mr Durkan said: “The fact is Sinn Fein have supported cutbacks to frontline services over the last few years.”