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Snap poll likely if Assembly collapses over crisis

By Joanne Fleming

A snap election appears the inevitable outcome if Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigns over the escalating RHI row.

Over the weekend Gerry Adams made it clear Sinn Fein will not back down from its demand for Stormont's First Minister Arlene Foster to stand aside to allow a probe into the botched green energy scheme.

In comments to party followers, the Sinn Fein president said they will, if necessary, pull the plug on the institutions, and warned Mrs Foster she was "not a Prime Minister".

But Mrs Foster, who presided over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) when economy minister, has steadfastly refused to step aside.

Sinn Fein last week put forward proposals for dealing with the crisis engulfing Stormont, and Mrs Foster has said they provided a basis for taking an investigation forward, but rejected Sinn Fein's further calls for her to temporarily withdraw.

If Mr McGuinness chose to resign, the Executive would collapse unless Sinn Fein nominated a replacement.

The deputy First Minister would be expected to run the resignation option by his party's ruling council, the ard chomhairle. If he quit, the Executive would collapse unless Sinn Fein nominated a replacement. Under current legislation, an election is expected to be triggered within six weeks.

It is understood Secretary of State James Brokenshire is only likely to become involved in the matter when it comes to the timing of any election.

However, the DUP's Sammy Wilson, giving no sense of being alarmed, insisted this weekend that Sinn Fein is simply trying to extract wider political concessions from the First Minister.

During the last Stormont crisis in 2015, over welfare reform, there were also fears over what would happen if Mr McGuinness resigned.

At that time political commentators speculated that Mr McGuinness could appoint a temporary replacement, in line with how Peter Robinson appointed Arlene Foster when he stepped aside to devote time to his family in the wake of the 'Irisgate' affair.

It was also suggested that the ard chomhairle could allow a period in which Mr McGuinness could try to negotiate with the Government for concessions while it was under pressure to stop the Assembly collapsing.

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