The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) launched a personal attack on Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams tonight in a sign of growing political tension.
DUP leader Peter Robinson hit back at claims that elements of his party were opposed to sharing power with Catholics by branding Mr Adams a “sad spectacle”.
Mr Robinson rejected claims of bigotry in his party and said the Sinn Féin leader’s comments should be treated with “pity rather than scorn”.
“What a sad spectacle Gerry Adams has become,” said Mr Robinson. “He has resorted to making outlandish and absurd claims in order to grab some media attention and seek support for his party’s present absurd position.
“The central accusation made by Mr Adams is wrong. The DUP is committed to working the Assembly for the maximum benefit of all of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Robinson told supporters at a DUP dinner in Crilly Orange Hall, Co Tyrone, that his party, the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP were in favour of holding Executive meetings despite the stand-off over the transfer of policing and justice powers to the Assembly.
The DUP leader claimed that Sinn Féin were becoming isolated after their tactics had blocked Executive meetings since June.
“The DUP is involved in the real work of delivering for our community - Protestant and Roman Catholic – on the issues that matter to them: health, housing, roads, schools and jobs,” said Mr Robinson.
“The contrast between the approach that we have taken and the approach of Mr Adams could not be clearer.
“On the day he was making false allegations of a sectarian nature, I was meeting local business leaders who need the help of the Northern Ireland devolved government in these trying economic times.”
He said Sinn Féin demands for an Irish language Act would not help families pay rising household bills.
In an attack on Mr Adams’s role as MP for West Belfast, Mr Robinson added: “West Belfast has some of the most deprived communities in Northern Ireland - both Protestant and Roman Catholic – and what is their MP doing about it? Banging on about his party-political objectives.”
Mr Robinson said: “People will rightly judge this as yet another sad outburst from a man who is frustrated that he is no longer able to control events in the way he once did.”
Last night Mr Adams launched a strongly-worded attack on his political opponents, blaming the DUP for jeopardising the power-sharing institutions.
“It is obvious that there are elements with the DUP who do not agree with power-sharing and partnership as a political model or as practical politics,” said Mr Adams at a Sinn Féin conference in Belfast.
“In addition, there are clearly elements of the DUP who really don’t want to have a Catholic about the place. They are opposed to power-sharing in any form.
“And some of them clearly believe that by stalling and delaying they can hollow out the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.
“As a result of this opposition the DUP has been retreating from its obligations under the St Andrews Agreement.”
Tonight a Sinn Féin source hit back at Mr Robinson’s comments: “Many people in the wider community are questioning Peter Robinson’s tenure as First Minister.
“There has been one Executive meeting during his four months in office. What Peter Robinson needs to do is focus on delivering on the obligations his party entered into in the St Andrews Agreement.”