McGuinness resigns from NI executive as green energy scandal deepens

9 Jan 17

Fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Executive are expected in the coming weeks after Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in protest at the botched administration of a green energy scheme.

In the run up to Christmas, the Northern Ireland Executive was rocked by the fallout from the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, established in 2012 under the auspices of current first minister Arlene Foster when she headed Northern Ireland’s enterprise department.

Flaws in the way the RHI scheme was set up led to costs spiralling, up to £400m over budget. Whistleblowers allege that the generous incentives offered to businesses and farmers were abused and have highlighted delays in closing the scheme. It was finally shut down in February last year.

In a resignation statement today, McGuinness said his party – Sinn Féin –  “would not tolerate the arrogance of the Democratic Unionist Party”, with whom Sinn Féin shares power at Stormont.

In a resignation letter to Northern Ireland Assembly speaker Robin Newton, McGuinness wrote: “The DUP’s handling of this issue 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. The public are demanding robust action and accountability but the DUP, in particular Arlene Foster, have refused to accept this.

“The DUP leader has a clear conflict of interest. She was the minister responsible for the RHI scheme at its inception. No cost controls were put in place and warnings were ignored. This has led to an enormously damaging pressure on our public finances and a crisis of confidence in the political institutions.”

Foster survived a vote of no confidence at an emergency meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly shortly before Christmas.

In comments released earlier today, she suggested Sinn Féin were playing “a game of chicken” with the DUP and expected her to “blink first”.

“For clarity, I will not be stepping aside. I will take my direction from the electorate, certainly not Sinn Féin,” the first minister said.

It is expected the power-sharing executive will now be dissolved with elections to take place within six weeks.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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