NI: Fresh elections set to disrupt legislative programme

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness

Northern Ireland is heading for fresh elections following the resignation yesterday of deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Sinn Féin will not nominate a replacement in the available period, making fresh elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly all but inevitable.

In a statement yesterday morning, Mr McGuinness said he was resigning because First Minister Arlene Foster would not step aside while an investigation into the RHI scandal takes place.

He said: “The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation. That position is not credible or tenable.

“The Irish and British governments have internationally binding obligations to uphold issues of equality and parity of esteem. They need to fulfil these obligations.

“Therefore, it is with deep regret and reluctance, that I am tendering my resignation as deputy First Minister with effect from 5pm on Monday, 9th January, 2017.”

He added: “In the available period Sinn Fein will not nominate to the position of deputy First Minister.

“We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgement on these issues democratically at the ballot box.”

The looming dissolution of the Assembly throws into doubt the future of plans set out in the draft Programme for Government.

The DUP-Sinn Féin coalition’s consultation on their legislative programme for 2016-21 closed shortly before Christmas.

It included commitments to speeding up justice, piloting problem-solving approaches to justice, exploring methods of addressing offending rooted in mental health, and developing digital justice.

However, in its consultation response, The Bar of Northern Ireland had warned that the draft programme did not sufficiently address the major issues facing the justice sector over the course of the new mandate, such as safeguarding access to justice.

There is uncertainty over whether Justice Minister Claire Sugden, an Independent Unionist MLA, will return to the role after the election.

Meanwhile, former Justice Minister David Ford will have to resubmit his private member’s bill on abortion after the election for it to be heard.

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