The Northern Ireland Executive’s trench warfare continued today with NI deputy First Minister, Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, issuing a statement claiming that the UUP and the SDLP “were lobbying for public money for their parties in talks with the British government in exchange for adopting an oppositional role in the Assembly.”
BBC NI political editor, Mark Devenport, notes the escalation of hostilities
…today the Deputy First Minister widened the accusation to the SDLP, claiming he had information that the party had also been involved in discussions on funding an opposition. He mentioned Margaret Ritchie by name.
Both Ms Ritchie and Alasdair McDonnell were quick to deny this – accusing Sinn Fein of “kite flying”. When I spoke to a government source, they also said that in recent meetings between the NIO and the SDLP the question of funding an opposition had not been raised.
However tonight Sinn Fein hit back – claiming that Mr McGuinness’s information had come directly from the Secretary of State Owen Paterson, at meeting with the Deputy First Minister at which note takers were present. [added emphasis]
And, being a good journalist, Mark Devenport checked that source, as he notes in an update to the post
UPDATE: The NIO tonight said that during his meeting with Martin McGuinness, Owen Paterson did raise the hypothetical possibility of the Ulster Unionists and the SDLP going into opposition in the future and asked Sinn Fein’s view. However the NIO say their notes don’t include a reference to Margaret Ritchie and they acknowledge that the SDLP themselves has NOT raised the opposition option. The NIO says its position is that no changes to the Stormont system will be made without the agreement of the local parties. [added emphasis]
Maybe the NI deputy First Minister is just a bit confused…