BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned Monday over the handling of an alternative fuels plan, making a call for a new election likely.
McGuinness, 66, of the Sinn Fein Party, has a power-sharing agreement with First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party. He said the DUP's conduct regarding the Renewable Heat Incentive, a government energy rebate program known as "cash for ash," as the reason for his resignation. Foster has refused to resign over the long-running scandal, which began in 2012.
Foster, as enterprise minister, established the incentive program to encourage production of heat from renewable sources. Errors in subsidy rates left the program open to abuse, with participants able to claim more cash if more fuel was burned. The program, currently under investigation by the government, could cost Northern Ireland taxpayers up to $596 million.
In a letter of resignation Monday, McGuinness said Foster has a "clear conflict of interest" regarding the scandal, and that her position as first minister is "not credible or tenable." To prompt a new election so voters can "make their own judgement on those issues, democratically, at the ballot box," he resigned.
"The refusal of Arlene Foster to recognize the public anger or to exhibit any humility in the context of the RHI scandal is indicative of a deep-seated arrogance, which is inflicting enormous damage on the executive, the assembly and the entire body politic."
Under the protocols agreed to by both parties to share Northern Ireland's government, Foster also loses her office, although she may stay to exercise limited functions. The Sinn Fein Party has seven days to replace McGuinness but has said it will not choose another deputy first minister. A quick election is expected.
In making his announcement, McGuinness looked ill, the Irish Times reported, although he was adamant that his health was not a factor in his decision.
"I have been very deeply involved in all of the conversations in the course of recent weeks. I was here last week speaking to Arlene Foster, I've been doing my job as is appropriate for me to do so, so health has got absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever," he said.