Following the resignation, last week, of Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in protest at unionist arrogance and intransigence, the Stormont Executive has collapsed and new elections will be held on 2 March.
Britain’s governor in the north of Ireland, James Brokenshire, made the announcement almost exactly one week after Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned and thereby also removed DUP leader Arlene Foster from her post of First Minister.
Sinn Fein’s most senior Minister at Stormont, Mid-Ulster Assembly member Michelle O’Neill, confirmed Sinn Fein would not nominate
a new deputy First Minister. She said the party had been “stretched to the limit” by the DUP and it was “calling time” on the Stormont institutions.
Ms O’Neill paid tribute to Mr McGuinness’s “Trojan efforts” during his 10 years as deputy first minister and said her party would not tolerate the “arrogance and disrespect of the DUP. Sinn Fein will only be part of institutions which work and deliver for all in the community,” she said. “There can be no return to the status quo. If something is broken, you stop and you fix it.”
The move by Sinn Fein was not unexpected as the republican party had warned on multiple occasions in recent weeks that its patience with its unionist partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, had finally run out.
Finally Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams signalled the party could withdraw Mr McGuinness in order to make Ms Foster’s position untenable.
Due to the joint nature of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, the move means the DUP leader Arlene Foster is no longer First Minister, that the power-sharing Executive has collapsed and that a new election is pending to the Stormont Assembly.
Mr McGuinness’s resignation comes amid question marks over his own health, but there is no doubt the move follows directly from the actions of DUP leader Arlene Foster and her Ministers. Most recently, this has been Foster’s failure to recognise the seriousness of corruption allegations facing her party over a government renewable energy incentive scheme which will cost in the region of a billion pounds in public funds. Known as the ‘cash for ash’ scandal, the scheme provided limitless subsidies for those who burned a certain biomass fuel well in excess of the cost of the fuel itself, and had generated public outrage and despair.
In yet another show of arrogance Foster made it clear she was prepared to see Assembly elections rather than step aside ahead of an independent investigation. In a message to Mr McGuinness – before the announcement of his resignation – she had said: “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. And if there is an election, there is an election. I take my directions from the electorate and certainly not from Sinn Fein,” she declared.
Indeed elections will be.