Northern Ireland

Peter Robinson and Jim Allister row over land remarks

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Media captionPeter Robinson made the allegations in the Assembly chamber

There have been angry exchanges in the assembly chamber between First Minister Peter Robinson and Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister.

Mr Allister was questioning Mr Robinson about what he termed the DUP's "u-turn" on the Maze peace centre.

Mr Robinson then accused Mr Allister of being prepared to do business with republicans, as executor of a will, over the sale of property in Fermanagh.

Mr Allister said he was neither the executor nor beneficiary of any will.

The exchange took place during a discussion of what would happen to the money earmarked for the stalled peace centre at the former Maze prison.

In a letter to his party last month, Mr Robinson said the centre should not proceed without consensus.

On Monday, Mr Allister told the assembly: "The first minister must be one of few people who doesn't see it as a u-turn.

"I don't think there is any shame in that. Doing the right thing is never something to be ashamed of.

"Could the first minister shed any light, if the £18m which was previously to be squandered on the Maze is not to be squandered there, what is the thinking about where that money might be more beneficially and usefully used?"

Mr Robinson said: "I do understand that he (Mr Allister) does have some sympathy for u-turns.

"This is the same member who comes in here week after week and a man from Mars would think that he was breathing fire on republicans.

"And he chides me for doing business with republicans, but then secretly and, outside of this house, the member as the executor of a will, is selling land to republicans in County Fermanagh to benefit his own family."

In response, Mr Allister said he was neither the executor nor beneficiary of any such will, adding: "What protection exists for members so they are not subjected to such false allegations?"

Image caption Jim Allister has refuted the allegations

In response, Speaker William Hay said he would study Hansard.

He then chided Mr Allister for trying to shout down the chair earlier.

This was a reference to Mr Allister refusing to take his seat after Mr Robinson's claims.

The speaker told the assembly he would examine the issue.

Sinn Féin MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone Sean Lynch called on Mr Robinson to explain his remarks in the assembly.

"Such comments were wholly unacceptable for the first minster to make," he said.

"This is an office that is designed to represent everyone.

"However, the tone of Peter Robinson's remarks are essentially a signal that it is not OK to sell land to Catholics."