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Justice minister Claire Sugden's refuses to join walkout, votes against exclusion

Justice Minister Claire Sugden did not make any statement on the RHI scandal in the run-up to yesterday's vote
Andrew Madden

JUSTICE minister Claire Sugden said she did not take part in yesterday's Stormont walk-out because she "did not want be part of the theatre" and was "too embarrassed" at how events played out, before voting against excluding Arlene Foster from office.

Ms Sugden has made no explicit statement on the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme scandal since the controversy began, nor did she make clear her stance on the motion before the assembly yesterday in the run up to the debate.

However, when it became clear yesterday morning that any statement by the first minister would not be made on behalf of the executive office, all non-DUP MLAs rose from their seats and departed the chamber in protest. All but Claire Sugden, and Jim Allister - who stayed to voice his concern.

The position of the justice minister is the only seat in the executive that is decided on a cross-community vote and Ms Sugden is also the only independent MLA in the assembly.

Following a half-hour recess, DUP MLAs returned to the chamber to hear the first minister deliver her statement regarding her role in the RHI scheme, however Ms Sugden was noticeably absent from proceedings.

The justice minister returned to the chamber for the debate on the bill for Ms Foster’s exclusion, where after several hours of heated debate she made her position known.

"I didn't want to take part in the theatre earlier, I was deeply embarrassed," she said.

"I will support a full, independent inquiry, judicially led if necessary - however this vote is premature."

She went on to say that she would judge her confidence on the first minister based on substantive evidence, not rumour and allegations.

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