Sinn Fein insisted that they will not replace Martin McGuinness after he resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, sparking an almost inevitable election to bring down the current Stormont administration.
Under the 2007 power-sharing agreement, the DUP’s Arlene Foster loses her first minister role with the departure of the deputy. All parties are bracing themselves for a snap poll and weeks of chaos.
McGuinness quit in protest against the handling by the Democratic Unionist Party of a botched energy scheme that could cost taxpayers £490m.
Mrs Foster said: “At a time when we are dealing with Brexit, needing to create more jobs and investing in our health and education system, Northern Ireland needs stability, but because of Sinn Féin’s selfish reactions, we now have instability.
“This is not an election of our making, but the DUP will always defend unionism and stand up for what is best for Northern Ireland.”
The energy scandal has been centre stage in politics in Northern Ireland over the past month, with Mrs Foster previously rejecting repeated calls to resign. She set up RHI scheme in 2012 when she was enterprise minister in an attempt by the Northern Ireland Executive to encourage production of heat from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. But flaws in the subsidy rates set allowed claimants to earn more cash the more fuel they burned.
McGuinness said Mrs Foster had a “clear conflict of interest” in the scandal position was “not credible or tenable”.
“The refusal of Arlene Foster to recognise the public anger or to exhibit any humility in the context of the RHI scandal is indicative of a deep-seated arrogance, which is inflicting enormous damage on the executive, the assembly and the entire body politic,” he added.
An election could be called next week if Sinn Féin does not nominate a replacement as deputy first minister, and McGuinness has said the party will not do that.