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Peter Robinson has resigned as First Minister of Northern Ireland

Just one DUP minister will remain in the Executive.

Updated 6.27pm 

Peter Robinson Source: PA WIRE

PETER ROBINSON HAS announced he is stepping aside as Northern Ireland’s First Minister.

He, along with all DUP ministers except one, have resigned from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Speaking to the press, Robinson said finance minister Arlene Foster will stay on as temporary first minister.

It was feared this could trigger the fall of the Stormont power-sharing executive, although this could be avoided with the retention of Foster.

Robinson said he asked Foster to take on the role to ensure nationalist and republican parties would be unable to take control of the North’s financial affairs, as it could be “detrimental”.

“As someone who invested many hours trying to bring devolution to Northern Ireland, and to maintain it, I have tried to create space to allow these critical unresolved matters to be dealt with in a structured manner,” Robinson said.

The move follows the party losing a vote to either suspend or adjourn the Executive to resolve the current crisis, sparked by allegations that IRA members were involved in the murder of Kevin McGuigan.

Speaking this evening at the Fine Gael think-in in Adare, Co Limerick, Taoiseach Enda Kenny described it as a “very serious situation”.

The opportunity and the timescale in which to make progress here is very limited now and I would hope that the elected reps of the people of Northern Ireland in their respective parties would accept the responsibility that was given to them by the people to make sure that the institutions of Northern Ireland continue to work and be functional in the interests of people of the north.

Bobby Storey released

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Northern chairman Bobby Storey – who was arrested in connection with McGuigan’s death – has been released from custody.

Currently speaking to the media, Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has ruled out suspending the institutions of Northern Ireland, and called on the parties to come together to resolve the issues they face.

She stressed the need to “deal with the issues that have arisen with the continued existence of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland”:

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.

In his speech, Robinson said:

In light of the decision by republicans, nationalists and the UUP 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 Arlene Foster.

“A sad day for Northern Ireland”

In a statement, the Dáil’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he “greatly regretted” the decision of the DUP to resign.

“The Irish Government is absolutely committed to the full and effective operation of the Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement,” he said.

Following today’s serious developments, the power-sharing institutions are on the edge of the precipice. I urge Northern Ireland’s political leaders to take a step back and consider the gains achieved over recent years, the benefits to the people of Northern Ireland and what is now at stake.

Flanagan has travelled to Belfast this evening, and speaking to RTÉ News, he described it as a “sad day for Northern Ireland and a bad day for politics”.

Speaking after a meeting with SDLP leaders this morning in Dublin, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the North “is in crisis mode”.

The SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the Ulster Unionists voted against the adjournment.

NI Executive crisis Source: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Kenny said he has told British Prime Minister David Cameron that the Irish government does not support suspension of the Assembly.

Ministers Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald both expressed concern at recent developments.

Coveney noted the short window of opportunity that now exists for the Executive to be saved as new ministers will be selected in just six days, adding that a collapse would be “hugely damaging”.

Fitzgerald said the government “stands ready” to support the talks - ”I appeal to all the parties to come around the table to start talks.”

It is a very grave situation.

She dismissed suggestions that the Irish government ‘took its eye off the ball’

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell told Drivetime on RTÉ Radio 1:

It is not our responsibility to jump to a DUP tune. They’ve created a crisis and they’re going to have to help to solve the crisis.

The current political impasse has been heightened by yesterday’s arrest of Sinn Féin’s Northern Ireland chairman Bobby Storey over the murder of former IRA prisoner Kevin McGuigan.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said that “politics is not a court of law” and they need not wait for someone to be convicted to question Sinn Féin’s commitment to peace.

Presenter Audrey Carville put it to the DUP MP that the PSNI have said that they believe the Provisional IRA are no longer involved in terrorism.

In a testy response, Donaldson rejected this saying this may not be the case because the recent arrests were made under the Terrorism Act.

Additional reporting by Rónán Duffy and Hugh O’Connell.

Read: Gerry Adams: Sinn Féin had nothing to do with Kevin McGuigan’s murder >

Read: Peter Robinson is back from his holidays and he’s taking aim at the UUP >

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Nicky Ryan

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