(Repeats story published on Tuesday with no changes)
* Northern Ireland power-sharing falls apart
* Lingering deep distrust undermines 1998 peace deal
* Sinn Fein pushes for new deal
* Government paralysed as Brexit looms
By Amanda Ferguson
BELFAST, Jan 10 After a decade of bitter
compromises over paramilitaries and policing, Northern Ireland's
power-sharing government finally fell apart this week over the
abuse by farmers of a green-energy grant to burn fuels such as
wood pellets instead of coal.
The confrontation has exposed a growing rupture in trust
between Catholic Irish nationalists and pro-British Protestant
unionists whose cooperation underpins the 1998 Good Friday peace
agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed.
While there is no sign of a return to violence that killed
3,600 people, the political crisis looks set to paralyse
government in the province for months at the same time as
Britain's exit from the European Union threatens simultaneous
shockwaves to its economy and constitutional status.
"I'm not sure that power-sharing can be restored now,"
Jeffrey Donaldson, a senior member of the ruling pro-British
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) told Irish state radio RTE on
Tuesday, a day after Irish nationalist, and ex-Irish Republican
Army (IRA) commander, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness,
resigned over the affair.
"I really don't think that Martin and his colleagues have
begun to contemplate the damage the decision they made yesterday
has done to the prospect of power sharing in the future."
The Good Friday Agreement, negotiated by former U.S. senator
George Mitchell and ratified in May 1998, effectively ended the
"Troubles" that had torn apart Northern Ireland and was based on
a power-sharing pact to govern by cross-community consent.
McGuinness's resignation means a snap election is more than
likely, bringing the power-sharing government to the brink of
collapse. McGuinness raised the prospect of a lengthy
renegotiation of any power-sharing, saying there would be "no
return to the status quo" after an election.
There has been a decade of power-sharing between Sinn Fein,
once the political arm of the IRA, and the DUP which have
overcome fierce disagreements over rival marches, the legacy of
the Troubles and constitutional issues. The green energy scandal
proved to be the final tipping point.
"CASH FOR ASH"
For months Northern Irish media have revelled in stories of
farmers heating barns night and day to burn as many wood pellets
as they and other business owners could to take advantage of a
subsidy that gave them 1.60 pounds for every 1 pound spent.
Unlike a similar scheme elsewhere in the United Kingdom
legislation lacked a cap and could cost taxpayers up to 490
million pounds ($595 million), almost 5 percent of the region's
First Minister Arlene Foster, who launched the scheme four
years ago, apologised, but insisted her party closed it as soon
as flaws became apparent.
While her refusal to resign was the trigger for the first
collapse of the government since McGuinness agreed to share
power with rivals a decade ago, all sides admit that the
political fissures go much deeper.
"The heating scandal is the occasion for the resignation,
it's not the cause," said Brian Feeney, a columnist for Irish
nationalist newspaper the Irish News.
"They have a long list of grievances and they have just
decided it's not going to go on any longer."
While the power-sharing deal calls for a partnership of
equals, Sinn Fein says the DUP has been treating it with
"provocation, arrogance and disrespect" culminating, they say,
in the scrapping of a 50,000-pound grant for disadvantaged
children to learn the Irish language just days before Christmas.
"Sinn Fein will not tolerate the arrogance of Arlene Foster
and the DUP. We now need an election to allow the people to make
their own judgment," McGuinness said after his resignation.
ELECTION "HIGHLY LIKELY"
An election is the "highly likely" next step, the British
government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland James
Brokenshire said on Tuesday, unless Sinn Fein agrees to appoint
a replacement for McGuinness within seven days, something it has
said it will not do. McGuinness recently took a
break from some of his duties because of an undisclosed illness.
But an election appears likely to just mark the starting gun
for a renegotiation of the terms under which the two parties
Sinn Fein members in recent days have begun to hint at
demands likely to be made including funding additional rights
for Irish speakers and the lesbian and gay community, which the
DUP has blocked and for inquiries into deaths in the "Troubles".
Failure in those talks could cause devolved powers to revert
to London and open the possibility of a deeper rethinking of the
concept of power sharing.
The collapse of the relationship between McGuinness and
Foster also risks paralysing the region's response to Britain's
planned exit from the European Union as London prepares to
trigger divorce talks.
Sinn Fein, which campaigned for Britain to stay in the
European Union, says Foster has failed to properly represent the
56 percent of Northern Ireland voters who voted "Remain".
Foster, who campaigned to quit the EU, said she must instead
respect the opinion of the 52 percent of voters in all of the
United Kingdom who wanted to leave.
"Brexit is a complete mess and everyone here seems to be
ignoring it," said Ollie Woodhouse, a 21-year-old bar-tender
walking through central Belfast on Tuesday. "It is definitely
time for change in Northern Ireland."
EXPOSED TO BREXIT
A number of studies have named Northern Ireland, which is
the poorest region of the United Kingdom and has its only land
border with the European Union, as the most economically exposed
"There has seldom been a more important time for all our
citizens to have a strong well-functioning Executive," said
Angela McGowan, Northern Ireland Director of the Confederation
of British Industry.
But Brexit's impact could go much deeper, shifting the
constitutional architecture on which Northern Ireland's peace
There are several references to the European Union in the
good Friday Agreement and the DUP's Donaldson on Tuesday
suggested that Britain's exit from the European Union could
undermine the Republic of Ireland's ability to share in the
governing of the province under the Good Friday Agreement.
In recent days, fears have grown about the return of border
posts after suggestions Britain may leave the EU customs union,
a development that would anger Northern Irish nationalists and,
experts say, provide obvious targets for paramilitaries.
"Whilst these negotiations are about to start you have the
Scottish government lobbying for Scottish interests, you have
the Welsh government lobbying for Welsh interests and who does
... (prime minister) Theresa May pick up the phone to in
Northern Ireland?," asked University politics lecturer David
McCann. "Northern Ireland cannot afford to be stuck in neutral."
($1 = 0.8226 pounds)
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Additional reporting by Padraic
Halpin and Alistair Smout, editing by Peter Millership)