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Martin McGuinness resigns: 'My health has absolutely nothing to do with this'

By Cormac McQuinn

Martin McGuinness has said his health has had "absolutely nothing" to do with his decision to resign as deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Mr McGuinness officially stepped down on Monday as Deputy First Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive in protest at the Democratic Unionist Party's (DUP) handling of a botched renewable energy scheme, Sinn Fein said.

Speaking to RTÉ news this evening he said: "We in Sinn Féin will not tolerate the arrogance of Arlene Foster and the DUP."

He continued: "I believe today is the right time to call a halt to the DUP's arrogance."

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Martin McGuinness resignation letter in full

Asked if the decision was to do with his reported ill-health Mr McGuinness said: "My health is absolutely nothing to do with this whatsoever."

In a statement issued shortly before 6pm, DUP leader Arlene Foster said she was disappointed that Mr McGuinness had chosen to take this position.

Ms Foster said: "It is clear that Sinn Fein's actions are not principled they are political."

Mr McGuinness's decision effectively triggers an election in Northern Ireland. Sinn Fein has seven days to nominate someone else to replace Mr McGuinness - which is not expected to do - or the secretary of state must call an election.

In his resignation letter, which was sent to Speaker Robin Newton of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr McGuinness called for an election.

"We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgment on these issues democratically at the ballot box," he wrote.

“The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation. That position is not credible or tenable," he said in his resignation letter.

"The DUP's handling of this issues has been completely out of step with the public mood which is rightly outraged at the squandering of public money and the allegations of misconduct and corruption," he added.

"The public are demanding robust action and accountability but the DUP, in particular Arlene Foster, have refused to accept this.....

"The minister responsible for the RHI scheme should not have an Executive role in overseeing how this will be rectified."

He continued: "I have urged Arlene Foster to stand aside without prejudice to ensure confidence in the necessary investigation and in the wider public interest.

"These institutions only have value if they enjoy the confidence and support of the people they were established to serve.

"They only have meaning if are delivering fairly for all our people based on the principles of equality and mutual respect on which they were founded.

"I have sought to maximise the potential of the institutions for forward progress in a society emerging from bitter conflict."

However Ms Foster hit back in a short statement released shortly before 6pm.

“I am disappointed that Martin McGuinness has chosen to take the position he has today.

"His actions have meant that, at precisely the time we need our Government to be active, we will have no government and no way to resolve the RHI problems.

"It is clear that Sinn Fein’s actions are not principled they are political.

"Let me make it clear the DUP will always defend unionism and stand up for what is best for Northern Ireland and it appears from the Deputy First Minister’s resignation letter that is what annoys Sinn Fein the most.”

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has called Mr McGuinness's decision "decisive action" however.

He Tweeted a picture of Mr McGuinness signing his resignation letter.

Mr Adams wrote: "Ten years of valient (sic) service in Office Of First & Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness signs resignation letter. GRMA [go raibh maith agat] chara 4 all Ur work."

Speaking afterwards he said Mr McGuinness had "led from the front" in the Northern Ireland executive for ten years "defending the integrity of the political institutions and realising the potential of the Good Friday Agreement."

He argued that Mr McGuinness has always put the people and the political process first "In spite of the provocation, disrespect and arrogance from the DUP, and the failures of the British government to fulfil its responsibilities over that time".

"This is in contrast to the DUP who have been acting to undermine equality and partnership," Mr Adams said.

He attacked Ms Foster, who before becoming first minister, was the minister that overssaw the introduction of the RHI project.

"No minister responsible for such bad governance in any other administration would be still in office," Mr Adams claimed.

"Today, once again Martin McGuinness has taken decisive action to bring the RHI scandal, and the DUP's attitude to the political process, to a head," Mr Adams added.

The Republic's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he regrets the circumstances that led to Mr McGuinness's resignation.

He urged all parties to protect the Good Friday Agreement in the likely event of a looming election.

Mr Flanagan said: “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."

Mr Flanagan added: “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.”

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire MP  said the UK Government has a primary role in providing political stability in Northern Ireland. He added that they "will do all that we can to help the parties find a resolution in the coming days".

“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, it is incumbent upon me to call an Assembly election within a reasonable period.

“I would urge Northern Ireland’s political leaders to take the necessary steps to work together to find a way forward and I will work with all parties and the Irish government to this end.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin responded to the news of Mr McGuinness's resignation hitting out at both Sinn Féin and the DUP.

He said he has watched the controversy over the RHI issue "with growing dismay" in recent weeks as "outrageous details" emerged about the scheme.

He said he had hoped an agreement could be reached to facilitate an inquiry into the matter and that Northern politicians could work together to introduce a law capping the exposure to the taxpayer from the RHI project.

“The decision of Mr McGuinness to resign his position and Sinn Féin’s demand for new elections means that neither of those things will now happen", Mr Martin said.

"Instead, the stage is now being set for a bitter election campaign that will not address any of the issues that led us to this point, and the future of the institutions is thrown into serious doubt."

Meanwhile he branded the behaviour of the DUP and Ms Foster as "infuriating" since the BBC Spotlight programmed highlighted the cale and impact of the RHI issue.

"Rather than acknowledge the genuine concern of the general public, an attempt was made to reheat the discredited language of the conflict and assume the worst of motives on behalf of anyone who sought accountability," Mr Martin claimed.

“However, Sinn Féin’s decision to respond by pulling the plug and demanding fresh elections would appear to do very little to address any of the underlying problems and does nothing to deal with the challenge of limiting taxpayer exposure. Indeed, it is likely to have significantly delayed any movement in that regard," he added.

He said the situation is a "serious concern" ahead of the expected beginning of the Brexit process in March.

Mr Martin added: "We in Fianna Fáil have been warning for some time about the growing dysfunction within the Northern political establishment and we have been very critical of the failure of the Irish and British Governments to fully engage with Northern Ireland and the fact that they have taken stability and progress in the North for granted. The effect of that disengagement is now clear to see.”

Sinn Fein had earlier repeated its call for Ms Foster to step aside to allow for the investigation into the controversial scheme.

Speaking to Rodney Edwards of the Impartial Reporter newspaper in Fermanagh, the DUP leader said at that point that Martin McGuinness "may well resign" over the deepening crisis.

She said: "If he is playing a game of chicken, if Sinn Fein are playing a game of chicken and expecting me to blink in terms of stepping aside they they are wrong.

"If there is an election, there is an election and we will be ready for that election as the DUP always are."

The Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) project was designed to encourage businesses to switch from burning fossil fuels to wood biomass heating.

The Renewable Heating Incentive was supposed to help businesses mitigate the costs of running eco-friendly boilers actually ended up paying out more than the cost of the fuel - so the more people burned, the more public money they earned. Some applicants were found to heat buildings on an industrial scale just to make money.

Unlike a similar scheme in Britain, no cap was initially put on the payments.

It was revealed that after civil servants urged for the closure of the scheme in June 2015 until a tiered system was introduced in November, there was a spike in applications.

It was originally envisaged that the Treasury would foot the bill for the RHI, but the costs spiralled well beyond London's financial commitment. The total RHI spend in Northern Ireland is estimated to be more than £1 billion over the next 20 years.

The Treasury is set to cover £660 million of that, with Stormont landed with the remaining £490 million.

Irish Independent

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