Martin McGuinness joins chorus of calls for Foster to stand aside
THE future of the devolved political institutions are in doubt after Arlene Foster refused Martin McGuinness's request that she stand aside as first minister.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called for Arlene Foster to stand aside while an independent investigation into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal takes place.
The shock statement from the Foyle MLA immediately raised the stakes ahead of Monday's assembly debate on an SDLP motion of no confidence in the DUP leader.
The SDLP hardened its position last night with party leader Colum Eastwood calling on the assembly to "remove the First Minister from office".
Mr McGuinness, who spoke with Mrs Foster yesterday, said he had serious concerns about the credibility of politics.
He said during the phone conversation he had outlined serious concerns that the credibility of the Stormont institutions was being undermined by allegations about the RHI's "design, operation, abuse and ending".
The deputy first minister said allegations of corruption were among those being levelled by former DUP minister Jonathan Bell.
"This scheme has directly impacted on the public purse – taxpayers’ money wasted in this scheme needs to be retrieved," he said.
"It is my belief the only way to establish the truth and rebuild the reputation of the institutions is to urgently establish a fully independent investigation into this matter."
Mr McGuinness said the first minister needed to stand aside in the public interest to enable an investigation to take place.
"That is what I would do if I was in this situation," he said, adding that he had asked Mrs Foster to "take the time and consider this suggestion carefully".
However, last night the DUP insisted that its leader was going nowhere.
"The first minister will not be stepping aside, but instead is focused on ensuring the full facts about this issue emerge and proposals are brought forward which can make a significant reduction in the future financial burden the executive would face," a statement said.
"The first minister does not take her instructions from Sinn Féin but from the electorate.”
Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said he believed the integrity of the devolved institutions was at stake over the fall-out from the RHI debacle.
Mr Nesbitt described claims by Mr Bell that he was pressured to keep the £1.2 billion scheme open as "explosive".
The SDLP has tabled a motion of no confidence in Ms Foster which is due to be debated in the assembly on Monday.
What Arlene Foster said about RHI in October:
The DUP leader has so far refused to accept responsibility for the scheme's shortcomings. She was minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment when the RHI was introduced.
Significantly, however, the scheme tailored for the north did not impose a cap on claims – unlike a corresponding scheme in Britain on which it had been modelled.
"This is the most serious scandal of the many that the DUP have been embroiled in recently," Mr Nesbitt said.
"The very integrity of the institutions is at stake – in terms of our standing in the court of public opinion, we are in the last chance saloon."
The UUP leader said it was up to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) to try to get to the bottom of the scandal – otherwise, he said, an expensive public inquiry would be inevitable.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called for a "robust and independent public inquiry".
"There can be no hiding place for any individual or any piece of evidence relevant to this fiasco that will cost taxpayers who haven't even been born yet millions of pounds," he said.
He welcomed Mr McGuinness' remarks and said Sinn Féin "must say publicly and clearly that they will support our efforts to restore confidence in our institutions and reach the truth of this matter".
He added: "In these circumstances, the Assembly must act to remove the First Minister from office. This is a moment to take a stand for a higher standard of politics and higher standards in public office."