Stormont leaders have hit out at David Cameron after accusing the British Prime Minister of failing to meet them for eight months.
Both First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness criticised No 10’s attitude toward the devolved administration as they welcomed British Labour leader Ed Miliband to Parliament Buildings in Belfast.
Also accusing the coalition British government of backtracking on financial commitments made during the peace process, Mr McGuinness said Mr Cameron’s approach stood in stark contrast to that of the previous Labour government.
“We took the opportunity at the meeting we just had (with Mr Miliband) to explain the particularly difficult economic circumstances that we are faced with at this time and raised the issue of the reneging on the financial agreement made (in 2006) at St Andrews with the Labour administration by the Cameron-led Government,” he said.
“We also put on record our total dissatisfaction that in the past eight months neither the First Minister or I have met with the Prime Minister.
“This is a totally unacceptable situation and it’s something that certainly never happened under the stewardship of either Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.”
Mr Robinson appeared to take a swipe at the current British government as he welcomed Mr Miliband’s offer of an open-door policy between Stormont and the Opposition.
“We very much welcome the offer you have made of an open-door approach,” he said. “Would that it was the approach we had in other places as well.”
The Stormont leaders claim cuts to infrastructure spending in the North’s block grant allocation from the Treasury broke funding commitments struck by the UK and Irish governments at St Andrews five years ago aimed at regenerating the region.
Accompanied by shadow Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward, Mr Miliband was on his first visit to the North as party leader.
Ahead of the talks at Stormont, he visited Bombardier aircraft factory in east Belfast.
Mr Miliband pledged to work closely with the powersharing government.
“We are determined to continue to work with you now as the official Opposition in Westminster,” he told Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness.
“I have said to you that we have an open-door policy which we can discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.
“We do want to adopt a bi-partisan approach with the Government in London on issues around Northern Ireland, as has been the case for a number of years. That is very important for us as we move forward but we will continue to have dialogue with you about issues where you feel you have concerns.”
When asked if the North's troubled past meant it should be treated as a special case by Whitehall, Mr Miliband said his party had always recognised the particular circumstances the region faced.
“I do believe the Government should look sympathetically at some of the issues that are being raised in relation to Northern Ireland’s position,” he added.
“That is the position that we would have taken had we been in government and indeed it is the case that the shadow secretary of state has been pressing himself.”
A potential cut to the North's business tax rate – a proposal being considered by the British Treasury – was also raised.
Mr Woodward struck a note of caution and said any corporation tax reduction which was accompanied by an immediate slice off the block grant would not be the way forward.
“Any proposal, for example, that proposed cutting corporation tax on the one hand but then with the other hand proposed immediately to clobber the Executive by taking every penny of that away at the same instant from the block grant really is robbing Peter to pay Paul and Northern Ireland is no better off,” he said.