So Martin McGuinness, who has been off work for more than a month, is to resign as dFM from 5pm: allegedly over Mrs Arelene Foster’s failure to step aside (she lays out today in the BelTel why she believes there’s no grounds for her to do so).
McGuinness’s absence has been resolutely ignored as a factor in any of these shenanigans. But the vacuum it has created has been one the largest factors in ending the shortest lived administration in NI’s post-GFA history:
Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness talks about his sudden resignation, a possible election and whether he'll be well enough run in the election. pic.twitter.com/PAMiaVed2S
— Mark Simpson (@BBCMarkSimpson) January 9, 2017
His resignation brings his term in government to a close a mere seven months after SF and DUP’s joint Fresh Start Agreement. It seems very unlikely that Mr McGuinness will part in any future elections.
The issue with an election for the reason as presented is, as my friend Eamonn Maillie points out, is that it won’t solve the problem. Indeed, as Sam McBride says, rather than bring matters to a head, it’s now on hold:
Martin McGuinness resignation now means: 1) No Stormont RHI inquiry of any sort; 2) No emergency legislation to cap RHI costs rising by day
— Sam McBride (@SJAMcBride) January 9, 2017
Because, weirdly, there’s no actual disagreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the sort of procedure needed to allow things to move on. Both agree that an independent, as opposed to a public inquiry, will suffice.
The main argument between SF and the Opposition parties has been over the kind of inquiry needed.
Sinn Fein has stubbornly toed the DUP line, and pushing for a less robust and potentially manipulable independent inquiry (see the 2010 NI Water case).
It’s true that both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness have stepped aside in the past, but both did so at their own political convenience (McGuinness, because he was running for president of the Republic). Mrs Foster was never going to do so under pressure.
So, not only is an election on the cards, Sinn Fein has no Northern Irish leader. Internal speculations have run as wild as Gerry Adams coming back north, but that’s probably to do with the lack of big name choices for McGuinness’s successor.
If the last few weeks are anything to go by, there are three names bubbling up in the background.
Michelle O’Neill, who’s held ministerial roles in the last three terms, Conor Murphy who’s just back from exile in Westminster, and who is by far the ablest of the three, but most recent, Mairtin O’Muilleoir Minister of Finance.
As Nicholas Whyte notes, it’s likely all four larger parties will take a hit of some description, including the (conveniently) outgoing Speaker Robin Newton, because of the overall cut to five seats per constituency.
Otherwise, it’s a restart. This is more of an attempt to spike the guns of an opposition that was just getting too close to the mark in holding the administration to account.
After just seven months, they’ve barely had time to make enough capital to make inroads, and with far fewer resources they’re likely to feel the pinch. However, nor are these the actions of a collected, joined up administration.
I've long said mandatory coalition would implode. Today it has. No point in sticking back together the fragments of failure. Move on.
— Jim Allister MLA (@JimAllister) January 9, 2017