Northern Ireland

Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson 'have not discussed newspaper article'

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
Image caption Mr McGuinness (right) said he did not know Mr Robinson was about to make the comments about Northern Ireland's political institutions

Martin McGuinness has said he has not spoken to Peter Robinson since an article in which the DUP leader claimed the political institutions in Northern Ireland are not fit for purpose.

Mr McGuinness said he was not aware of the interview before it was published by the Belfast Telegraph.

"I knew absolutely nothing about it, there was no conversation whatsoever," Mr McGuinness said on Friday.

But the DUP said the article was discussed at an executive meeting.

'Further discussions'

Speaking on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, Mr McGuinness said: "I have been here for the last two days and I haven't had a conversation."

However, the deputy first minister added: "Don't be under any illusion, Peter Robinson and I will discuss the matter shortly."

Mr McGuinness, who is attending a Sinn Féin "think-in" event in Termonfeckin, County Louth, said he saw no reason why the Northern Ireland political institutions should collapse or be suspended.

He said it was "no way to do business" on the part of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which Mr Robinson leads.

"It certainly shows you the frame of mind that the DUP leadership are in at this minute, I don't know what's going on within the DUP."

'Sluggish'

However, DUP minister Arlene Foster said: "Contrary to what Martin McGuinness said on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme, the first and deputy first minister discussed this issue at the Northern Ireland Executive meeting on Tuesday."

She added: "Indeed since making the statement in the Belfast Telegraph, the first minister has been at his desk every day available for further discussions.

"If Martin McGuinness spent less time south of the border taking directions from his party masters, he would have more time for sensible discussions," Ms Foster said.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, First Minister Mr Robinson said the 2006 St Andrews Agreement had led to a political system at Stormont that was "time-consuming and sluggish".

The agreement had paved the way for the return of devolution in May 2007, when the then DUP leader Ian Paisley and Mr McGuinness became first and deputy first ministers.

However, Mr Robinson said new, government-level talks were needed, on the scale of the St Andrews negotiations, to resolve the current problems at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Speaking to the BBC's Nolan programme on Friday, Mr Robinson said the executive could not continue in operation if there was no agreement on welfare reform.

"It has come to a head because there is one issue [welfare reform] that cannot be dodged, that would not allow the executive to continue in operation if it is not dealt with and there is deadlock on that issue.

"All of the other difficulties that we've had in the past did not threaten the institutions.

"This one does threaten the institutions, because literally you could not continue a devolved government in Northern Ireland with the kind of reductions that would be necessary."

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