A SERIOUS sectarian element lies in the background of the threatened collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly after the resignation of the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, it has emerged.
Church leaders in Northern Ireland were this week anxiously awaiting developments between the political parties and the British and Irish governments to stave off what is described as a political catastrophe for the Province.
Accusations of discrimination and bigotry quickly emerged as being a large part of the reason for his departure, although Mr McGuinness, who is in poor health, left office ostensibly over a row involving green energy.
He had resigned in protest at the refusal of the DUP leader and First Minister, Arlene Foster, to “step aside” while an independent inquiry investigates a failed “cash-for-ash” Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), funded by the state to encourage businesses to run eco-friendly boilers for which they would receive a refund under the scheme.
This was similar to that in the rest of the UK with one difference: there was no cap on the amount refundable. This means that the Northern Irish tax payer faces a bill estimated at £490 million.
The scheme was devised by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment while Ms Foster was its minister. She has refused to step aside for the duration of even a preliminary inquiry, although the opposition parties wish her to do so.
In his resignation letter, Mr McGuinness criticised the behaviour of the DUP in cultural matters. His criticisms included its attitude towards gay people and the use of the Irish language, and the operation of institutions of state disproportionately against the interests of minorities, including Nationalists, instead of in the spirit of equality and respect for all, as reflected in the Good Friday Agreement.
He wrote: “The equality, mutual respect and all-Ireland approaches enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement have never been fully embraced by the DUP. Apart from the negative attitude to nationalism and to the Irish identity and culture, there has been a shameful disrespect towards may other sections of our community.
“Women, the LGBT community and ethnic minorities have all felt this prejudice. And for those who wish to live their lives through the medium of Irish, elements in the DUP have exhibited the most crude and crass bigotry.”
A frequently cited example of DUP “contempt” for the Irish language was the withdrawal of a £50,000 grant for underprivileged children in Northern Ireland to attend holiday courses in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) districts of County Donegal across the Border — while hundreds of thousands of pounds were being wasted on the RHI.
Sinn Fein has made it clear that it will not offer a replacement candidate for the post of deputy First Minister within the allotted period of the week, which might have rescued the Assembly.