9 January 2017
Martin McGuinness resigns as co-leader of North’s Executive government over ‘DUP arrogance’ – calls for elections
Political crisis brought to a head by DUP handling of RHI scandal but difficulties at Stormont go beyond RHI
THE RESIGNATION of Martin McGuinness from 5pm on Monday as deputy First Minister of the Northern Executive in protest at the DUP’s failure to accept the principles of power-sharing and parity of esteem, and their handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal took many Stormont watchers by surprise.
British Secretary of State James Brokenshire (pictured) said there is a clear process set out regarding what happens next.
“Unless Sinn Fein nominates a replacement to the position of deputy First Minister within the next seven days,” the English Tory MP said, “it is incumbent upon me to call an Assembly election within a reasonable period.”
He also declared that the government in London has a primary role in providing political stability in the North “and we will do all that we can to help the parties find a resolution in the coming days”.
The Sinn Féin co-leader at Stormont tendered his resignation on Monday afternoon following DUP leader Arlene Foster’s refusal to step aside as First Minister (without prejudice) during an investigation into the scale of the DUP’s involvement in the RHI scandal.
The move is likely to trigger fresh elections as Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy MLA said the party it will not nominate a replacement for Martin McGuinness.
It is a position emphasised by Martin McGuinness in his resignation letter.
The political crisis was brought to a head by the allegations around the DUP’s handling of the RHI scheme.
The RHI scandal has dominated politics in the North in recent weeks as allegations of corruption, abuse and incompetence surrounding the design, operation, financial management and closure the scheme by the DUP have undermined public confidence in the political institutions.
The DUP’s arrogance and denial of the scale of the scandal, the huge potential waste of public money, and the level of public anger around the RHI scandal have deepened the crisis.
Sinn Féin have consistently called for an independent investigation into the RHI scandal which would be robust, time-framed, led by a judicial figure and with powers of to compel witnesses and evidence. The party also called for Arlene Foster to step aside while to allow the investigation to take place.
But the difficulties go beyond the RHI scandal.
Speaking in Belfast on Saturday at a meeting of activists from Sinn Féin’s Cúige Uladh, party leader Gerry Adams made it clear that, over the ten years Sinn Féin have been involved in the Executive with the DUP, that party’s attitude to power-sharing and equality has created problems.
● Gerry Adams addresses Saturday's meeting in Belfast
In his resignation letter, Martin McGuinness said that the equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement have never been fully embraced by the DUP.
“Apart from the negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture,” he said, “there has been a shameful disrespect towards many other sections of the community.
“Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities have all felt this prejudice. And for those who wish to live their lives through the medium of Irish, elements in the DUP have exhibited the most crude and crass bigotry.
“Over this period, successive British governments have undermined the process of change by refusing to honour agreements, and refusing to resolve the issues of the past while imposing austerity and Brexit against the wishes and best interests of people here.”
Against this backdrop emerged the RHI scandal, he said, and added that the minister responsible for the RHI scheme – Arlene Foster – should have no Executive role in overseeing how this will be rectified as “there are significant conflict of interest issues”.
“The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation.
“That position is not credible or tenable.
“The Irish and British governments have internationally binding obligations to uphold issues of equality and parity of esteem. They need to fulfil these obligations.
“Therefore, it is with deep regret and reluctance, that I am tendering my resignation as deputy First Minister with effect from 5pm on Monday, 9 January 2017.
“In the available period, Sinn Féin will not nominate to the position of deputy First Minister.
“We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgment on these issues democratically at the ballot box.”
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An initiative for dialogue
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Contributions from key figures in the churches, academia and wider civic society as well as senior republican figures