The power-sharing deal that has allowed Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists to run Northern Ireland since 1998 is in jeopardy, after leading ministers resigned in a political crisis that has deepened amid allegations that members of the Irish Republican Army may have be linked to a murder.
First Minister Peter Robinson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, resigned along with three other ministers from the party, leaving a sole DUP politician — Finance Minister Arlene Foster — in place. In a protective measure, Robinson named Foster the acting first minister.
From London, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports:
"This crisis has been brewing for a long time. Northern Ireland is governed by a fragile coalition that has been deadlocked over budget issues.
"But things took a sharp turn for the worse last month, when police said current members of the Irish Republican Army may have been involved in the murder of a Belfast man. A senior member of the political party Sinn Fein was arrested.
"And after unionists said that party should be excluded from leadership positions in the government, things quickly deteriorated from there.
"Now that so many top government officials have stepped down in Northern Ireland, nobody knows what will happen next."
Ireland's Taoiseach (or prime minister), Enda Kenny, said Friday that if the executive and legislative branches collapse, it "could be a very long time" before things get back to "what you might call normal" operations, in an interview with RTÉ Morning Ireland.