Brokenshire says RHI inquiry ‘imperative' as clock ticks towards an election
SECRETARY of State James Brokenshire has said Stormont's green energy debacle needs to be investigated urgently but he appears reluctant to instigate any probe.
Mr Brokenshire told Westminster that the north's political leaders needed to step back from the brink and work to resolve the crisis sparked by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness's resignation on Monday.
The Tory MP is expected to bring DUP and Sinn Féin representatives together over the coming days in an effort to prevent a fresh election within weeks.
He told the House of Commons that the situation was "grave" and an election was highly likely.
Failure by Sinn Féin to nominate a new deputy first minister by teatime on Monday means Mr Brokenshire is obliged to call an election within a 'reasonable period of time'.
If no resolution is found, it is expected that the north's electorate will return to the polls in early March – just 10 months after the last assembly election.
The secretary of state expressed concern about the consequences of an election, raising the spectre of a return to direct rule.
He urged the DUP and Sinn Féin to work together to find a resolution and safeguard the progress made under the peace process.
"We must not put all of this at risk without every effort to resolve differences," he said.
"We must continue to do all we can to continue to build a brighter, more secure Northern Ireland that works for everyone and I therefore urge Northern Ireland's political leaders to work together to come together to find a way forward from the current position in the best interests of Northern Ireland."
However, Mr Brokenshire said the clock was ticking towards an election.
"If there is no resolution an election is inevitable despite the widely held view that this election may deepen divisions and threatened the continuity of the devolved institutions," he said.
The secretary of state said it was "imperative" that a "comprehensive, transparent and impartial inquiry" into the RHI scheme was established as quickly as possible.
"In addition, effective action needs to be taken by the executive and assembly to control costs," he said.
According to the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), however, Mr Brokenshire has no plans to initiate an inquiry or to mitigate the impact of the RHI scheme on the north's budget.
"The secretary of state made clear in his statement to the house earlier today that it is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland executive and assembly to take the necessary action to address the concerns that have been expressed about RHI," a statement from the NIO said.
"Over the hours and days ahead Mr Brokenshire will continue his engagement with the Northern Ireland political parties."
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he had urged the secretary of state to move to instigate a public inquiry under the 2005 Inquiries Act.