The British government's demand for major spending cuts in Northern Ireland is now a greater threat to the peace process than dissident republicans, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has said.
Speaking at a House of Commons reception hosted by Sinn Féin, Mr McGuinness told MPs from Labour and the Scottish National Party, diplomats and others that he had not entered politics "to become an administrator for Tory cuts".
Dissident republicans, he said, are “a tiny, unrepresentative” group who have never had “the ability to endanger, or threaten” Northern Ireland’s political institutions by their actions.
However, he said he found it “mind-boggling” that the greatest danger now to the survival of the Assembly and the Executive is the British government, which has demanded that Northern Ireland either accepts welfare reforms implemented elsewhere in the UK or funds higher payments locally.
He said that cuts already imposed on Northern Ireland have threatened the ability of public services to deliver results.
He said that the huge crowd that attended this month's anti-austerity rally in London showed that "common ground" exists between people in England, Scotland, Wales and the North against the agenda being pursued by the Conservatives.
He said that cooperation between those on both sides of the political divide in Northern Ireland has helped to overcome past challenges, “and it will work in the future”.
Praising the late Rev Ian Paisley, Mr McGuinness said he was proud to call him a friend, but he said that "the media had gone to town on him" after his death.
“When I die I suppose they’ll go to town on me,” he said, to laughter.
He said that Mr Paisley had “been a reconciler in the end” and he had never doubted his sincerity in the years he worked with him.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's Mid-Ulster MP Francie Molloy said that, contrary to criticism from the DUP, Sinn Féin's MPs are doing "our work in the Commons", even though they do not take up their seats at Westminster, in line with the party's abstentionist policy.
Reflecting the tensions between the parties, DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson said that Sinn Féin is "railing against austerity and the policies of the government just yards away from where they could actually make a difference".
“Most bizarrely of all they intend to lobby MPs at this event, presumably in the hope they might do the job that Sinn Féin’s own MPs refuse to do.
“Sinn Féin have chosen to make themselves irrelevant,” he said in a statement.
He said that hosting a reception, rather than voting in the Commons, highlights Sinn Féin’s “impotence”.
"For all Sinn Féin's rhetoric about 'Tory austerity' the truth is that Sinn Féin's abstentionist policy makes every vote in the Commons easier for David Cameron to win."