Fury over Tory claims of Miliband cosying up to Sinn Fein
The Conservative Party has been accused of "gutter politics" after taunting Labour over claims it has discussed a post-election coalition with Sinn Fein.
On the 100th day before the May general election, both Sinn Fein and Labour strongly denied a report in the Sun newspaper that they had been involved in "secret talks".
Their denials did not deter the Tories from seeking to make political capital, with a mock-up picture showing Labour leader Ed Miliband with his arm around SNP leader Alex Salmond and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams.
The picture on Twitter had the caption: "Your worst nightmare just got even worse".
In response, Labour hit back: "This is yet another example of how the Tories intend to fight this election in the gutter.
"Peace and stability in Northern Ireland is far too important to be used as a party political football."
The source of the Sun's story - carried on the front page of its Northern Ireland edition - appeared to be a Channel Four interview given by Sinn Fein MP Pat Doherty
A senior SF source told the Belfast Telegraph: "There have been no approaches from the Labour party or any spokesperson for them. It has not happened.
"What Mr Doherty was referring to, and it was quite clear, was that over the years all the parties in the British Parliament, not just Labour, have asked from time to time if there are circumstances in which Sinn Fein would change its abstentionist policy.
"The answer is always the same. No."
A spokesman for Mr Milliband, who visited Northern Ireland last week and met First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, told the Belfast Telegraph: "The story is untrue. We are working towards a Labour majority government and only towards a Labour majority government,
"It is untrue that Ed held any sort of coalition talks. The implication that Ed is cosying up to Sinn Fein is untrue."
In the House of Commons, however, South Leicestershire Conservative MP Andrew Robathan told MPs: "Apparently the Labour Party has been talking to Sinn Fein about a possible link-up after the general election."
As he made the remark, shadow Northern Ireland minister Stephen Pound shouted "absolute rubbish" from the front bench.
Opposition Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis added: "The party opposite seems to be wanting to introduce new protocols into the House, believing everything you read in The Sun and demanding the Labour Party takes responsibility for problems that are clearly the responsibility of the Government."
Sinn Fein West Tyrone Pat Doherty was reported in a Channel Four blog as saying he was regularly badgered by Labour members.
The blog said Sinn Fein policy "hasn't stopped Labour shadow cabinet members wooing them and testing the water to see if they could be persuaded to sit in the Commons if it helped to keep the Tories out of power". Mr Doherty said, however: "This is always dealt with in the same way. We will not be entering the House of Commons."