Power-sharing government collapses as Sinn Fein deputy first minister pulls out
MARTIN McGUINNESS quit as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister yesterday, collapsing the power-sharing government.
The Sinn Fein MLA resigned over Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) First Minister Arlene Foster’s refusal to step down over the “ash for cash” Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scandal.
Stormont faces shelling out £490 million over the next 20 years to subsidise businesses that have installed eco-friendly heating systems because tariffs were set too high and no cap set.
The scheme was introduced by Ms Foster when she was economy minister. Reports of abuse of the scheme include one of a farmer standing to pocket £1 million over that period for heating an empty barn.
Ms Foster has resisted calls from across the political spectrum to resign, accusing her governing partners of “playing chicken” earlier yesterday.
“If Sinn Fein are playing a game of chicken, and they think we are going to blink in relation to me stepping aside they are wrong — I won’t be stepping aside,” she insisted. “And if there is an election, there is an election.”
But Mr McGuinness did not blink, tendering his resignation letter yesterday afternoon, effective from 5pm. In his letter to the assembly speaker he said he was resigning with “deep regret and reluctance.
“The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation. “That position is not credible or tenable.”
Mr McGuinness made clear that Sinn Fein would not replace him in the role, meaning the collapse of the institutions and an election were now inevitable.
“We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgement on these issues democratically, at the ballot box,” he said.
But the veteran republican went further, criticising the DUP’s whole approach to the peace process.
“The equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement have never been fully embraced by the DUP,” he wrote.
He said the unionists had shown “shameful disrespect” and “prejudice” to women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities, and “crude and crass bigotry” to speakers of the Irish language.
Communist Party of Ireland chair Lynda Walker blamed the DUP’s “lack of transparency” for the crisis, saying Mr McGuinness had no option but to resign.
She said there should be an inquiry into RHI regardless of the outcome of his departure.
“Elections have always been divisive in Northern Ireland and there is nothing to suggest otherwise this time,” she warned.
“Arlene Foster is immediately calling upon the Unionist electorate not to be dictated to by Sinn Fein and is appealing to the sectarian instincts of unionists.
“If the DUP are returned with Arlene Foster as first minister it will lead to a deeper crisis regarding the survival of the institutions.”
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