Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, is stepping down.
Robinson, who has held the power sharing leadership position alongside Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness since 2008, announced that he, in addition to a number of ministers from the Democratic Unionist Party would be stepping down immediately.
This move effectively collapses Stormont, the Northern Irish Assembly.
His announcement follows weeks of turmoil at Stormont, the seat of the Northern Irish government, sparked by the murder of former IRA gunman Kevin McGuigan and a statement made by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that former members of the IRA was likely responsible.
Sinn Fein, the main republican party in Northern Ireland’s power sharing government, has denied any connection to the IRA, with party leader Gerry Adams stating that the paramilitary group does not exist anymore, but DUP leaders have claimed that the IRA’s continued presence violates the Stormont Agreement upon which the government was founded.
Sinn Fein’s Northern chairman Bobby Storey was arrested yesterday along with two other prominent republicans and is still being questioned by detectives, though he will be released today.
As I confidently predicted yesterday our colleague Bobby Storey is due to be released imminently.@sinnfeinireland
— Martin McGuinness (@M_McGuinness_SF) September 10, 2015
"The failure of the SDLP and Sinn Féin to implement the Stormont House Agreement, together with the assessment of the chief constable of the involvement of the IRA in murder, the continued existence of IRA structures, and the arrests that followed has pushed devolution to the brink,” Robinson said in a statement.
He also announced that Finance Minister Arlene Foster would be assuming his role.
Peter Robinson says he has not technically resigned but has stepped aside and Arlene Foster is temporarily taking over
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) September 10, 2015
"In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the Ulster Unionist Party to continue with business as usual in the assembly, I am therefore standing aside as first minister and other DUP ministers will resign with immediate effect with the exception of my colleague Arlene Foster.
"I have asked Arlene to remain in post as finance minister and acting first minister to ensure that nationalists and republicans are not able to take financial and other decisions that may be detrimental to Northern Ireland."
Northern Ireland's Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said that the government would not be suspended and asked that the parties come together to "deal with the issues that have arisen with the continued existence of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland”
Theresa Villiers MP: 'It's a bad day for the Northern Ireland political process' https://t.co/NRji5gwYnY
— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 10, 2015
She also tried to put the current crisis in perspective. "It’s a bad day for the Northern Ireland political process, but it’s also worth remembering that there have been a number of such days over the 20 years since the leadership of Northern Ireland undertook this great process that lead to the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements."
The announcement came immediately after the DUP’s motion to suspend the Northern Irish Assembly so the parties could hold emergency talks was voted down by the other parties.
The SDLP, Northern Ireland’s smaller nationalist party, voted against the motion.
Prior to Robinson’s announcement, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams urged the DUP to re-consider.
“The decision of the [assembly’s] business committee is a very, very clear democratic reiteration of the integrity of these institutions and of the need and the wish for these institutions to continue the work which we were all elected to do on behalf of citizens in this state and across this island,” he said.
Mike Nesbitt, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Part, which resigned from Stormont last month, said “This is a about a murder. It is about the status of a terrorist organisation in 2015. And it is about the denial of that by a party of government - Sinn Fein. That's why we withdrew from the Executive. We were not prepared to turn a blind eye.”
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness condemned the murders of McGuigan and Jock Davidson earlier this summer, while calling it ridiculous that criminal acts could bring about the collapse of the government.
"Isn't it ridiculous that criminals, low-life murderers who killed two men have the ability to bring down these democratic institutions that I do believe have the overwhelming support of the people of Ireland and the people of the North.”
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said that he "deeply regretted" the DUP's decision.