The sudden decision by Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness to step down as deputy first minister looks almost certain to capsize Northern Ireland’s assembly. His departure is the latest in a series of political dramas which have deepened a crisis building in the province for weeks. The scandal over a flawed renewable heating scheme, which will leave taxpayers facing a bill of at least £400m, has smouldered since February. But it erupted when it emerged that Arlene Foster, now the Democratic Unionist first minister but in 2013 the person in charge of the initiative, had been contacted by a whistleblower over its serious flaws. These warnings went unheeded and the scheme was extended, increasing the liability for the taxpayer. Costs ran out of control because they were not capped.

With an insouciance bordering on arrogance, Mrs Foster dismissed critics, saying she could not expect as minister to know every “jot and tittle” of the unsound scheme. Although it was the smaller parties – particularly the Alliance party – that identified Mrs Foster’s clear conflict of interest, it was left to Mr McGuinness, a former IRA commander, to deliver the coup de grace to the present administration. With fractious exchanges between the DUP and Sinn Féin, the two largest parties in the assembly, little is being done to promote the trust and cooperation that is essential to making power-sharing work. In words and deeds both parties are putting a decade of the peace process, which has brought so many improvements to Northern Ireland (including a reduction in terrorist murders), at risk. It is clear that Mrs Foster should have stepped down as first minister while an investigation was carried out, as Sinn Féin and others demanded. Instead, she accused her opponents – who were male and female – of misogyny and of “playing chicken”. This tough-talking no doubt plays well with certain sections of a unionist audience, but it is extremely foolhardy to call for an election, as Mrs Foster did, when the government of the province should be engaged with preventing a calamitous outcome from Brexit on issues such as immigration and trade.

The worry is a resurgence of a tribalism that rests upon a counsel of fears. Sinn Féin will be tempted to play its nationalist cards – not least to ward off attacks from the leftwing People Before Profit which won seats in its heartlands. Mr McGuinness is not in the best of health. If elections do now come early, as seems likely, he may not return to Stormont. Given his popularity, this could be a seismic shift in Sinn Féin’s leadership. For the DUP, there is a question about the biggest party trading in zero-sum politics which hinder reconciliation. Mrs Foster blocked funding to deal with inquests into the most controversial killings of the Troubles, a move criticised by the province’s senior judge. Packaged as a way of preventing the hearings being skewed against the state it was a decision made with an eye on unionist votes. Just before Christmas the DUP cut bursaries for poor Irish language students a few months after funding marching bands patronised mainly by unionists. It is in nobody’s interests to see the collapse of the assembly that has taken years to build. The electorate, if given the chance, should reject identity politics and cast their votes on the substantive issues facing the part of the UK with the highest levels of deprivation, unemployment and poverty.

This article was sourced from http://khushboomagazine.com