Jim Allister dramatically confronted First Minister Peter Robinson in his Stormont office yesterday over claims that the TUV leader had "sold land to republicans". In what is thought to have been a heated exchange between the former party colleagues, the TUV leader asked Mr Robinson to withdraw comments made in the assembly chamber minutes earlier.
There were also calls last night from other parties for the DUP leader explain his remarks, which one MLA described as "a signal that it is not okay to sell land to Catholics".
The First Minister's outburst occurred during an oral question time as he responded to a question by Mr Allister about funding earmarked for the planned Maze-Long Kesh peace centre. Mr Robinson - who last month withdrew his party's support for the project after coming under pressure from victims' groups and unionists including Mr Allister - rounded on his former colleague.
"He chides me for doing business with republicans," Mr Robinson said.
"But then secretly and outside of this house the member as Executer of a will is selling land to republicans in Co Fermanagh to benefit his own family." Mr Allister's attempts to respond to the allegation were drowned out by shouting and calls from assembly speaker William Hay for order to be restored.
When oral questions concluded, the TUV leader went straight to the First Minister's private office and challenged him to withdraw the remark.
Last night there was no indication that Mr Robinson planned to retract the controversial comment. In a statement issued later, Mr Allister said his wife's brother had died last year and bequeathed his Co Fermanagh farm to a group of relatives. It is understood that the farmland in question is the Brookeborough area
The TUV leader said his brother-in-law's will had been drafted by DUP Enterprise minister Arlene Foster, who was working as a solicitor at the time.
"it transpired he had appointed a nephew as executor with instructions to sell the farm and divide the proceeds between six named beneficiaries, of which my wife is one," the North Antrim MLA said.
"I am neither the executor, nor a beneficiary."
The TUV leader described Mr Robinson's claim as "an absolute falsehood".
A source close to Mr Allister said the former DUP MEP has "no idea about the politics" of the buyer of the land.
Confirming that he had confronted the DUP leader in his office, Mr Allister said: "I asked him to be man enough to come to the house and withdraw his false allegation."
The TUV leader returned to the chamber and on a point of order asked what protection existed for assembly members against falsehoods.
"I accept the rough and tumble of politics and I'm not a shrinking violet but when a blatant falsehood is peddled the line of acceptable conduct has been crossed," Mr Allister said.
"I reiterate I have not sold any land anywhere, as an executor, or otherwise, and I am not the beneficiary of any such sale."
Last night the DUP insisted that the Allister family had "benefited and it is laughable to suggest otherwise".
A spokesman said: "We merely point out that we have been attacked for doing political business with Republicans by Mr Allister and are therefore surprised at this turn of events."
Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch said Mr Robinson must explain his remarks.
"I don't know if these allegations are true or not but such comments were wholly unacceptable for the First Minster to make -- this is an office that is designed to represent everyone," the Fermanagh-South Tyrone representative said.
"The tone of Peter Robinson's remarks are essentially a signal that it is not OK to sell land to Catholics."
SDLP assembly member Alex Attwood also said Mr Robinson need to make it clear whether he believed people should chose to sell property on the basis of their religion or politics.
"If anybody believes you sell land to someone on the basis of identity then that is narrow-minded and sectarian," he said.
Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson said: "irrespective of the veracity of the claims made, or the ongoing personal goading between Peter Robinson and Jim Allister, we are quite clear that any business transaction should be made on the merits of the individual cases without any political or religious connotations being taken into account."
QUESTION: TUV leader Jim Allister
OUTBURST: First Minister Peter Robinson