Irish Republican News · January 16, 2017
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Election set for March 2 amid rancorous Stormont debate


The British government has announced that elections to the Stormont Assembly wil take place on Thursday, March 2nd after the Sinn Fein/DUP power-sharing Executive formally collapsed this afternoon.

Britain’s governor in the north of Ireland, James Brokenshire (pictured), made the announcement shortly after 5.30pm, almost exactly one week after Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy First Minister and thereby also removed DUP leader Arlene Foster from her post of First Minister.

Earlier today, Sinn Fein’s most senior Minister at Stormont, Mid-Ulster Assembly member Michelle O’Neill, confirmed Sinn Fein would not nominate a new deputy First Minister. She said the party had been “stretched to the limit” by the DUP and it was “calling time” on the Stormont institutions.

Ms O’Neill paid tribute to Mr McGuinness’s “Trojan efforts” during his 10 years as deputy first minister and said her party would not tolerate the “arrogance and disrespect of the DUP”.

“Sinn Fein will only be part of institutions which work and deliver for all in the community,” she said. “There can be no return to the status quo. If something is broken, you stop and you fix it.”

The immediate cause of the current breakdown were fresh allegations of corruption against the DUP, although relations between the two parties had clearly deteriorated considerably under Foster’s leadership.

Speaking earlier, Ms Foster said it was “deeply regrettable” that the Assembly would be dissolved. She insisted the Six Counties did not need an election and Sinn Fein’s position “risks Northern Ireland’s future and stability and suits no-one but themselves”.

Efforts to block the allegedly corrupt payments issued under the Renewable Heat Initiative, the scheme at the heart of the latest scandal, were discussed earlier today.

DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton insisted anyone found to be abusing the scheme would face “enforcement action”, but said it was important not to “tar all applicants with the same brush”.

Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said Mr Hamilton’s proposal was “not a comprehensive plan” to address the issue. “The public should know that every day, from now until April 1, the RHI debacle will continue to cost us 85,000 pounds a day.”

In other developments, Sinn Fein’s motion of no confidence in Assembly Speaker Robin Newton was vetoed by the DUP.

All parties except the DUP had called for his resignation after he presided over a farcical one-sided debate on the RHI scandal before Christmas, Yesterday, he increased the sense of institutional collapse when he personally blocked a Freedom of Information request which would have cast light on his role in the RHI affair, as well as his handling of the Stormont debate.

Mr Conor Murphy described the use of the veto to protect Newton as “insulting”. He said: “The RHI scandal and the DUP’s handling of it has been marked by arrogance and contempt for the political institutions and the general public.

“They have tried to absolve DUP members and ministers from any responsibility for this scandal. It has been more about protecting the reputation of ministers not about transparency and accountability.

“Today the DUP have invoked the Petition of Concern to protect the DUP Speaker. It is clear that the Speaker has lost the confidence of the majority of MLAs.

“The Petition of Concern was brought in to protect the rights of minorities. It is insulting that the DUP are using the Petition of Concern to cover the back of one of their own the Speaker.

“The DUP’s decision to use the POC today to frustrate a debate on the Speaker is final proof, if proof were needed, that the DUP are corrupting the institutions in their own interests and against the wishes of the general public.”

He said Sinn Fein would not be returning to the executive unless there was “fundamental change to the approach of the DUP and how they do power sharing”.

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