Foster, May, McGuinness
Theresa May (C), Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster (L), and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle in Belfast, in July 2016.Reuters

Both sides of the coalition government continued to blame each other as Northern Ireland heads to the polls on 2 March.

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy said: "We went to the DUP before Christmas, Martin McGuinness spoke to Arlene Foster - we asked her privately to step aside so we could facilitate an inquiry.

"The DUP [Democratic Unionist Party] hardened up their position over Christmas and tried to dress it up as an attack on unionism and we ran out of road.

"If the institutions don't have the peoples' confidence then it can't function."

Meanwhile, the DUP's Alistair Ross argued: "It's been clear for several weeks now that Sinn Féin have been looking to manufacture a crisis and collapse the institutions here."

A snap election has been called on 2 March in Northern Ireland to elect a new Assembly after the executive was thrown into crisis over a bungled green energy scheme. The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) looks set to cost taxpayers £490m.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who called the election after negotiations failed between the power-sharing coalition of Sinn Féin and the DUP, said no-one should "underestimate the challenge to the political institutions here in Northern Ireland and what is at stake.

"While it is inevitable that debate during an election period will be intense, I would strongly encourage the political parties to conduct this election with a view to the future of Northern Ireland and re-establishing a partnership government at the earliest opportunity after that poll," he stated according to BBC News.

The present assembly will sit until 26 January, when it will be dissolved. The new election takes place just 10 months after the previous one, which resulted in a joint Sinn Féin-Democratic Unionist party government.

It is unclear whether former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, who resigned over Arlene Foster's refusal to step aside in the wake of the scandal, will be a candidate in the forthcoming election.

If McGuinness does not stand again, one of those likely to stand in his place is Michelle O'Neill, the Sinn Féin health minister in the outgoing government. She said: "Sinn Féin will only be part of institutions which work and deliver for all in the community.

"There can be no return to the status quo. If something is broken, you stop and you fix it."

DUP leader Arlene Foster, who accepted her party's nomination as first minister, said the electorate did not want or need an election.

She accused Sinn Féin of triggering a poll because they were against the outcome of last May's vote.

"They have forced an election that risks Northern Ireland's future and stability and which suits nobody but themselves," she said according to the Belfast Telegraph.