Political news

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness face each other in Assembly chamber

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness both followed proceedings at Stormont today 
Deborah McAleese, Press Association

As Martin McGuinness took his seat in the Assembly chamber, possibly for the last time, his body language mirrored that of Arlene Foster.

Sitting directly opposite each other, the feuding former First and Deputy First Ministers both unconsciously rested clasped hands on the bench in front of them and stared straight ahead. At no time did their eyes meet.

They sat in that mirrored pose throughout the six-minute appointment process.

Just moments earlier the Great Hall of Stormont and the balconies above had been packed with members of the media, the public and civil servants as Mrs Foster spoke to the press to accuse Sinn Fein of forcing an election.

"I haven't seen so many people or media in the hall since the Book of Condolence was opened for Ian Paisley," a member of security staff said.

Inside the chamber, Mrs Foster began to fidget slightly as Lord Morrow, the nominating officer for the DUP, took to the floor.

Scenes were more subdued than had been expected, given the explosive language used by the warring sides in recent days.

There were a few muted grunts and calls of "hear hear" from the DUP members as Lord Morrow put Mrs Foster forward for the position of First Minister again.

"No-one is going to dictate to us who the leader of our party is," he said.

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill, who has become a prominent figure within the party since Mr McGuinness announced his resignation, stood to pay tribute to her "friend Martin McGuinness".

The DUP's Paul Givan muttered "yeah, yeah", and some of his colleagues rolled their eyes as Mrs O'Neill said Mr McGuinness had taken "personal and political risks" for the sake of progress.

She added that her party would not renominate for the position of Deputy First Minister.

"It's now over to the people to have their say," she concluded.

As Mrs O'Neill sat down beside Mr McGuinness he reached over and patted her on the back.

With the office of the First and Deputy First Minister now officially vacant, Assembly Speaker Robin Newton ended the proceedings by declaring: "Let us move on."

With that, Mrs Foster stood abruptly and quickly exited the chamber.

As Mr McGuinness began to leave through an opposite door, Alliance leader Naomi Long hugged him. Former Alliance leader David Ford then shook his hand and walked out with him.

A group of schoolchildren sat wide-eyed in the public gallery as they witnessed their government collapse before them.

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