US government calls for quick return to Northern Ireland powersharing

The US government has urged a quick resumption of powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Restored democratic institutions and engaged citizens can take the country forward, the State Department said, following the calling of fresh elections.

There are fears a divisive campaign will make a rapprochement even less likely, raising the spectre of a return to direct rule if a new administration cannot be formed within the required three weeks on the other side of the March 2 poll.

The US statement said: "The United States remains committed to supporting a more peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.

"To this end, we urge all political parties to focus on quickly finding a way forward to the resumption of stable devolved governance.

"We also encourage civil society leaders to continue their vital work building a better, shared future.

"Restored devolved democratic institutions and an engaged, constructive citizenry can best take Northern Ireland forward."

The Ulster Unionists have referred Northern Ireland's botched eco-energy scheme which precipitated the crisis to the police.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) threatens to cost the taxpayer up to £490m over the next 20 years.

Some boilers are producing profits of more than 80% for users, the Stormont assembly was told.

MLA Steve Aiken said: "I have written to the Chief Constable of the PSNI (George Hamilton) on foot of assertions made by the Minister for the Economy at yesterday's emergency economy committee meeting."

Northern Ireland will now go to the polls just ten months after the last assembly vote.

Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness quit last week citing irreconcilable differences with the DUP.

The deadline for Sinn Féin to renominate to the vacant post before an election had to be called passed on Monday evening.

Republicans have accused the DUP of alleged corruption, although that is unproven.

Sinn Féin did not show up at Stormont for a debate on the RHI.

Democratic Unionist assembly member Emma Little Pengelly hit back at her party's critics.

"I am not corrupt and I am not arrogant. I honestly know that my colleagues are not arrogant and corrupt either," she said.

"I got into politics to serve the people, to be an advocate and to deliver for the people of South Belfast and Northern Ireland."

Claire Hanna from the nationalist SDLP said there had been an "alphabet soup" of scandal.

"We need to start getting answers and we need people to understand that this assembly is more than a racket and a farce."

MLA Stephen Farry said the civil service was being politicised.

He said an inquiry should examine the design of the RHI, how whistleblowers were treated and delays in taking remedial action.

"RHI has struck a chord with people because it relates to the struggles they face and can recognise incompetence at least."

Nichola Mallon, of the SDLP, said the RHI had cost the taxpayer £32m since a whistleblower contacted the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in January last year.

A Police Service of Northern Ireland statement confirmed it had received Mr Aiken's letter and was considering the contents.

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