In Brief

Northern Ireland Assembly in crisis after McGuinness quits

Resignation over 'cash for ash' scandal expected to prompt 'rancorous and divisive' early elections

Martin McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland's deputy first minister yesterday, setting in motion the collapse of the power-sharing executive.

The Sinn Fein politician, who has held the post since 2007, quit in protest at the handling of the botched green energy scheme that cost taxpayers £490m and could yet bring down First Minister Arlene Foster.

Under the power-sharing deal introduced by the Good Friday agreement, his resignation means the first minister is also removed from office pending fresh elections. Foster will continue in a caretaker role with limited powers.

At the heart of the dispute is the renewable heat incentive (RHI) set up by Foster in 2012, when she was enterprise minister, in a bid to encourage production of heat from green sources. "Known as the 'cash for ash' scandal, it has been alleged that the scheme had serious flaws which meant [Northern Irish businesses] were given a financial incentive to pointlessly burn fuel," reports The Independent.

In his resignation letter, McGuinness attacked Foster's Democratic Unionist Party for its handling of the scandal. Its response has been "completely out of step with a public mood", he said, and had inflicted "enormous damage on the executive, the assembly and the entire body politic".

He added: "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."

McGuinness's decision will heap even more pressure on Foster and the DUP and almost certainly lead to "rancorous and divisive" early elections, says The Guardian.

However, according to Gavin Gordon, the BBC's Northern Ireland political correspondent, voters are already "asking what this will achieve if the DUP and Sinn Fein are returned as the biggest parties".

Sinn Fein has made it clear it will not return to the status quo, but this could result in "tortuous negotiations", continues Gordon. With Westminster focused on the bigger issue of the forthcoming Brexit talks and the prospect of a deal complicated by uncertainty about whether the UK's split from the EU will mean Ireland is again divided by a hard border, he questions whether ministers have the appetite to address another constitutional crisis.

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