MARTIN McGuinness is to resign as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in protest to the DUP’s handling of the renewable heat incentive (RHI) crisis.
The senior Sinn Féin member will formally resign at 5pm today, which will automatically trigger an election in Northern Ireland.
In a statement McGuinness said his resignation was “in protest” at the DUP’s failure to accept the principles of power sharing and parity of esteem and their handling of the RHI crisis.
“Over the last 10 years I have worked with DUP leaders and reached out to unionists on the basis of equality, respect and reconciliation,” McGuinness said.
“Over this period the actions of the British Government and the DUP have undermined the institutions and eroded public confidence. Sinn Féin will not tolerate the arrogance of Arlene Foster and the DUP.
“Sinn Féin wants equality and respect for all. That is what this process must be about. Today I tendered my resignation.
“Today is the right time to call a halt to the DUP’s arrogance. There will be no return to the status quo.”
The RHI was set up by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) under the stewardship of Mrs Foster in 2012 to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.
While the NI Executive were attempting to increase consumption of heat from renewable sources, flaws in the scheme’s subsidy rate left it open to abuse as claimants could earn more money the more fuel they burned.
Speaking of the RHI on Saturday, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called on the DUP leader to step aside.
“There is a worsening crisis in the political institutions surrounding the Renewable Heat Incentive and serious allegations of corruption, fraud, and incompetence associated with the scheme. Arlene Foster insists she will not step aside. This is unacceptable.
“The DUP leader has a clear conflict of interest. She was the Minister responsible for the RHI scheme from its inception. Mrs Foster also oversaw its operation for almost three years as Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Investment.
“She approved the RHI scheme without cost controls and took the decision to strip these controls out of the scheme.
“Her Department had been warned a year before the scheme was set up by energy companies and by the Ulster Farmers Union that there was a need for cost controls and caps on payments.
“The failure to act on these warnings and the stripping out of cost controls has led to the largest potential loss to the taxpayer of any government scheme in the history of the northern state.”
“There are some elements that we can certainly work with [with Sinn Fein]. That’s the frustrating thing: we want to see an independent inquiry probably more than anyone because we have absolutely nothing to hide in respect of this.
“But they [Sinn Fein] are preventing that inquiry getting up and running because of their ludicrous demand that I have to step aside for four weeks.
“So it is they who are holding back the inquiry and that’s very regrettable and I hope they reflect on that now and take that nonsense out of the terms of reference and let us get on with an independent inquiry,” she said.
On Friday, January 8, Ms Foster also released a statement that said: “There has been much talk from my political opponents about accountability for the RHI scheme and its out workings [..]
“My position has been, and remains, that I am content to be held to account for my actions as a Minister.”
Tweeting about McGuinness’s protest resignation this afternoon, Gerry Adams said: “Ten years of valiant series in Office of First and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness signs resignation letter.
“GRMA [Go raibh maith agat] a chara 4 all ur work [sic].”
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he regretted the circumstances which have lead to Martin McGuinness’ resignation.
“I regret the circumstances which have led to the decision of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness to resign his office.
“The substance of the RHI controversy is very much a matter for the devolved Executive and Assembly.
“However, the Government is very mindful of the need to protect the integrity of the principles and institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
“In this regard, both the effective functioning of those institutions and respecting the principles of partnership and equality are of critical importance.
“If, as appears likely, new elections to the Assembly will now be required, it behoves all parties to act responsibly in word and deed, so that the political institutions of the Agreement will not be damaged in the longer term.
“I have spoken this afternoon to the Deputy First Minister and to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government will continue to work with the British Government and the political parties to advance political stability, reconciliation and economic prosperity in Northern Ireland.”
Martin McGuinness was the MP for Mid Ulster from 1997 until his resignation in 2013.
He became Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland on May 8 2007, with the Democratic Unionist Party leader Ian Paisley becoming First Minister.
On June 5 2008 he was re-appointed as deputy First Minister to serve alongside Peter Robinson, who succeeded Paisley as First Minister.