Simmering political tensions in Belfast yesterday erupted into open rhetorical warfare, with unionists and republicans angrily blaming each other for recent failed attempts to make progress.
Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein's Deputy First Minister, accused unionist parties of "dancing to the tune of extremists" in failing to agree to a deal in recent talks.
He claimed unionist leaders had told him that in Belfast the Orange Order, the main Protestant marching organisation, was "one and the same" as the UVF.
This, he said, had impacted on the recent unsuccessful negotiations chaired by former US diplomat Dr Richard Haass.
But in an angry response, First Minister Peter Robinson of the DUP said: "He speaks as if he is not one of the parties but rather the controller and dictator of how the process will operate."
The heated rhetoric is a sign that the political atmosphere, which has been strained over the past year, has reached a new level of sourness.