Northern Ireland has been plunged into further political crisis this evening with Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness resigning as Deputy First Minister.
McGuinness has quit over the First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster’s refusal to stand aside while an inquiry into the mishandling of a botched green energy scheme takes place.
His resignation effectively collapses power-sharing in the North and is likely to lead to fresh elections, just seven months after the last vote. It also comes on the eve of Britain’s triggering of Article 50 to formally kickstart the process of leaving the EU.
The veteran Sinn Féin MLA, who has health problems requiring ongoing treatment in recent weeks, said Foster has a “clear conflict of interest” and that her position “is not credible or tenable”.
He said there now needed to be an election “to allow people to make their own judgement on these issues democratically at the ballot box”.
The Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) could cost Northern taxpayers £490 million (€572 million) over the next 20 years in a scandal that has become known as ‘cash for ash’. Foster was the minister in charge when RHI, which offered subsidies for the use of green technologies like wood-chip boilers, was set up. The failure to cap payments resulted in a huge overrun that could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
Foster has steadfastly refused Sinn Féin’s demand to step aside with the two parties also at odds over the terms of reference for the inquiry and measures to reduce the cost of the scheme.
McGuinness had been involved in efforts to break the impasse in recent weeks but has limited his public appearances with Sinn Féin refusing to disclose the nature of his health problems.