Senior Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness resigned as deputy leader of Northern Ireland’s devolved government on Monday, as a feud over an energy scandal threatened to plunge the region into a political crisis.
In his resignation letter, McGuinness said Irish republican party Sinn Fein would not nominate a successor for the power-sharing government headed by First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party.
Foster has been embroiled in a scandal over a botched energy scheme which could cost taxpayers nearly 500 million pounds (600 million dollars).
“We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgement on these issues democratically at the ballot box,” he wrote after his party failed to persuade Foster to step down over the heating scheme scandal.
The resignation of McGuinness is likely to lead to a snap election for the regional assembly, according to analysts.
Under the rules of the assembly, first elected in 1998, Foster will be unable to operate as first minister without a deputy to work with her.
Foster said she was “disappointed that Martin McGuinness has chosen to take the position he has today.”
Sinn Fein had called for her to step down pending an investigation into an overspend of 490 million pounds on a regional Renewable Heating Incentive scheme, which she had set up while she was an enterprise minister.
But Foster accused Sinn Fein and McGuinness of using the RHI investigation as an excuse to undermine her and manufacture a political crisis.
“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,” she said in a DUP statement.
“It is clear that Sinn Fein’s actions are not principled, they are political,” Foster said.
McGuinness accused the DUP of “arrogance” and said his resignation was also a protest against the “DUP’s failure to accept the principles of power-sharing.”
“There will be no return to the status quo,” he said.
Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan said he regretted the resignation and had spoken to McGuinness and Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, since the announcement.
Flanagan urged all politicians in Northern Ireland to “act responsibly” to avoid long-term damage to the political power-sharing created by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which formally ended decades of sectarian conflict in 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,” he said in a statement.
McGuinness, 66, had missed some government meetings in recent weeks and another Sinn Fein politician confirmed on Friday that he had unspecified “health issues.”
But on Monday, he said his health had “absolutely nothing to do with” his resignation.