Owen Paterson has been accused of making 'ill advised' comments on the future of the Stormont administration
First Minister Peter Robinson has accused Secretary of State Owen Paterson of making "ill advised" comments on the future of the Stormont administration.
He claimed: "He has a growing track record of making partisan political points in an attempt to bolster his latest party political project in Northern Ireland."
Mr Robinson's attack followed an announcement by Mr Paterson to publish a consultative paper making the case for the establishment of an official opposition at Parliament Buildings, Belfast where the SDLP and Ulster Unionists have been critical of the two dominant parties inside the powersharing executive - the Democratic Unionist Party and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's Sinn Fein.
The First Minister said the Secretary of State had given the impression he was most comfortable when publicly attacking the executive and local politicians.
Mr Robinson said: "We would all like to see more progress on a number of issues, including reform of the government structures, but Mr Paterson knows full well that headline grabbing will do nothing to bring it about. I have long argued for reformed structures but such fundamental changes will require maturity amongst all involved."
The Stormont coalition was far from perfect, he said, but Mr Paterson should look at the two party coalition in Westminster which Mr Robinson claimed, was stumbling from one crisis to the next and where the programme for government lay in tatters.
Many within Northern Ireland would consider the Secretary of State's comments as ill advised, and compared to the ongoing open warfare at Westminster, the executive at Stormont was relatively stable.
Mr Robinson added: "Mr Paterson has a growing track record of making partisan political points in an attempt to bolster his latest party political project in Northern Ireland.
"I need hardly remind him that his recent local political alliances have all ended in failure having been completely rejected by the electorate.
"I trust that in the future, this partisan Secretary of State will direct his energies to matters where he can assist Northern Ireland rather than squander his time seeking sound bites."