The DUP has been accused of 'whipping up fear' within unionist communities ahead of next month's Stormont election.

Instead of "scaremongering" the party should answer questions about the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, the Ulster Unionist Party has said.

During the launch of the DUP manifesto, Arlene Foster said her party and Sinn Féin will be "neck and neck" in the March election.

She also said that a victory for Sinn Féin would give the party and Gerry Adams a "hugely significant worldwide propaganda boost".

However, UUP candidate Doug Beattie accused the DUP of "attempting to whip the unionist electorate into a state of perpetual fear".

He also accused the party of being "up to their necks in scandal".

"Instead of scaremongering why don't they tell the people what they are going to do about the RHI scandal, clearly explain their role in it and where they are going to get the money from to replace the #85,000 per day currently going up in smoke?

"People should not buy the DUP snake-oil at this election," he said.

Mr Beattie added that another DUP/Sinn Féin power-sharing government would mean "more scandal, more failure and Northern Ireland on a downward spiral of despair".

Launching her party's seven-page manifesto Mrs Foster said a win by Sinn Féin would threaten economic recovery, lead to a "divisive and destabilising" border poll and allow Sinn Féin to "shape policy consistent with Gerry Adams' all-Ireland agenda in a thousand different ways".

She added: "It would give Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin a hugely significant worldwide propaganda boost just months after nationalism's worst election since 1993 and would undermine the unionist confidence which is being rebuilt after so many years in decline.

"Our job is to make sure that does not happen."

Mrs Foster did not take questions from the media. Before she began her speech at the manifesto launch in Belfast's Stormont Hotel Mrs Foster said she had "man flu".

A DUP spokesman later told the media she was not well enough to take questions.

A large portion of Mrs Foster's speech referred to Sinn Féin and Mr Adams, whom she mentioned at least 15 times.

She criticised UUP leader Mike Nesbitt's intention to transfer his vote to the SDLP, saying unionists transferring to nationalists will make it "much more likely that Sinn Féin win the election".

Following the election on 2 March there will likely be a lengthy period of negotiations between the political parties.

Mrs Foster said she will lead her party, along with deputy leader Nigel Dodds, into these negotiations.

The talks will include the divisive issue of how to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

Mrs Foster insisted the party will not permit "the rewriting of the past or the persecution of the security forces".

She said: "In this new political era, we will defend those who defended us through the dark days of the Troubles."

"As we have seen from Scotland, in the absence of any likely change in the status of Northern Ireland, a referendum on our future constitutional position would be divisive and damaging."

However, this will lead to further tensions with Sinn Féin and the SDLP who have both said soldiers must be held accountable under the same laws as the rest of the population.

Mrs Foster also said the DUP will oppose any border poll outside the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

"As we have seen from Scotland, in the absence of any likely change in the status of Northern Ireland, a referendum on our future constitutional position would be divisive and damaging," she said.

The DUP leader added: "We will honour all previous commitments we have made on the basis that republicans will honour theirs as well.

"Even after this unnecessary and damaging election, we will stand over the commitments that we have made in the past to help ensure politics works and people have confidence moving forward."

Stormont's institutions collapsed in January after serious flaws were uncovered in a botched renewable heat incentive scheme, which could cost taxpayers £400 million.

A snap election was called after Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest at the DUP's handling of the RHI scandal.

Mrs Foster claimed Sinn Féin "precipitated a crisis" so they could deal directly with the UK government because the party is unable to deal with the DUP in negotiations.

She did not mention the RHI scandal in her manifesto speech.

However, she did say during post-election negotiations the DUP will "respond positively to any proposals to increase transparency, accountability and to help the institutions function more effectively".