Why is Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness stepping down?

Martin McGuinness has announced his resignation as Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in protest against the Democratic Unionist Party's handling of a botched renewable energy scheme.

His decision comes after his partner in government, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster, repeatedly refused to step down to facilitate a probe into the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) - a scheme that has left Stormont facing a £490 million overspend.

Here's everything you need to know.

Who is McGuinness and what is his reason for resigning?

McGuinness is a Sinn Fein politician who has held the post of Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland since 2007.

The 66-year-old, who has repeatedly insisted that an independent investigation into the botched scheme cannot go ahead unless Foster steps aside, said he was resigning with "deep regret and reluctance".

"The First Minister has refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report from an investigation," he said.

"That position is not credible or tenable."

He made clear that Sinn Fein would not replace him in the role.

What does this mean for the DUP/Sinn Fein government?

First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness.
McGuinness with Foster (Jonathan Brady/PA)

McGuinness's move is likely to lead to a snap Assembly election.

"We now need an election to allow the people to make their own judgment on these issues democratically, at the ballot box," McGuinness said.

Foster presided over the ill-fated RHI while economy minister. She has steadfastly refused to accede to Sinn Fein's demand for her to step aside to facilitate an inquiry into her actions.

The fate of the current DUP/Sinn Fein administration in Belfast now hangs on the pivotal issue of whether or not she will stand down.

What is the RHI scheme?

A mural referencing the RHI crisis.
A mural referencing the RHI crisis (Niall Carson/PA)

The RHI scheme, funded by the state, was supposed to offer a proportion of the cost businesses had to pay to run eco-friendly boilers.

However, the subsidy tariffs were set too high and, without a cap, it ended up paying out significantly more than the price of fuel.

This enabled those who applied for the scheme to "burn to earn" - getting free heat and making a profit as they did so.

Claims of widespread abuse include a farmer allegedly set to pocket around £1 million in the next two decades for heating an empty shed.

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