Northern Ireland

Martin McGuinness accuses Peter Robinson of 'cowardice'

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness both attended the opening ceremony of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast
Image caption Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness both attended the opening ceremony of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast

Martin McGuinness has accused Peter Robinson of "cowardice of the worst kind" over alleged loyalist paramilitary attacks in east Belfast.

The deputy first minister attacked the first minister for showing "no leadership whatsoever" in his assembly constituency of East Belfast.

Mr McGuinness of Sinn Féin claimed the DUP was reluctant to criticise loyalists for electoral reasons.

The DUP has described that comment as "outrageous".

The fresh row erupted as both men attended the opening ceremony of the Giro d'Italia at Belfast City Hall.

The comments from Mr McGuinness were made in an interview for the BBC.

The deputy first minister said there had been a lack of statements from the DUP above councillor level condemning what he alleged was the involvement of the UVF in recent attacks on the Alliance Party's office in east Belfast and on innocent people from eastern Europe.

Mr McGuinness said this was because the DUP "obviously want their support in the elections", which he described as "cowardice of the worst kind".

'No basis in fact'

He also said he was disturbed that David Cameron had met Peter Robinson and the DUP on many occasions, but has never met with Sinn Féin as a political party.

He said this was despite repeated requests for meetings by himself and Gerry Adams.

Mr McGuinness accused the Conservatives of "cosying up" to the DUP.

He said the timing, ahead of the Westminster election, was so they might offer some deal in its aftermath.

DUP Chief Whip Peter Weir described Mr McGuinness's comments regarding the party and events in east Belfast as an "outrageous statement with no basis in fact".

"Unlike McGuinness, Peter Robinson has a consistent record on support for the rule of law. Unlike McGuinness, Peter Robinson has always condemned the actions of the PIRA - an organisation that murdered defenceless men, women and children," he said.

"The DUP has always condemned hate crime regardless of who the victim is or the suspected perpetrator. It has no place in our society and those behind it should be prosecuted."

'Cock and bull story'

Martin McGuinness described claims to the BBC by the former IRA member Peter Rogers that he and Gerry Adams had issued an order to transport a van of IRA explosives to England in 1980 as a "cock and bull story" and "total and absolute nonsense".

Asked why Mr Rogers and other republicans such as Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes would invent stories, Mr McGuinness said that "anti-peace process so-called republicans" harboured a "vitriolic hatred of Gerry Adams and the Sinn Féin leadership".

The deputy first minister described police evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee that there was intelligence linking 95 people who received 'On The Run' letters as "quite bizarre".

He claimed intelligence more often than not "doesn't amount to a hill of beans".

Mr McGuinness confirmed that he met Secretary of State Theresa Villiers earlier on Thursday to discuss the fallout from Gerry Adams' arrest.

He insisted he still supported the police and claimed his comments about "reviewing the situation" had been misrepresented.

The deputy first minister said the fact that the police had told Ms Villiers in advance about Mr Adams' arrest but not him, was a clear example of the PSNI showing political preference towards the British state rather than the devolved government.

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