Political news

Stormont crisis: Martin McGuinness delivers ultimatum to Arlene Foster

Martin McGuinness urged Arlene Foster to step aside while the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme scandal is investigated 

THE Stormont government faces a deepening crisis on Monday after Sinn Féin delivered an ultimatum to Arlene Foster over the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

On Sunday night, Martin McGuinness urged the DUP leader to stand aside, saying her planned statement to the assembly on the botched green energy scheme did not have his approval.

With republicans keen to avoid flak for failing to back Monday's SDLP no confidence motion at the assembly, Sinn Féin has tabled an extensive amendment which effectively trumps its rival's bid to exclude the first minister from office.

It calls for Mrs Foster to leave office for at least four weeks while an "independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation" produces a preliminary report into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal.

The SDLP has signalled that its MLAs are likely to support the amendment, which can be blocked by a DUP petition of concern.

Sinn Féin wants Attorney General John Larkin to appoint an "independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction" to lead the inquiry.

It says the probe must be comprehensive, covering everything from RHI policy development to the conduct of ministers, special advisers and civil servants.

Conflicts of interest and the handling of whistleblowers' alerts must also be considered, Sinn Féin said.

The party wants a preliminary report published within four weeks of the inquiry beginning and a full report three months later, insisting the contents will not require agreement of the first and deputy first ministers or the attorney general.

In calling for his Stormont government partner to stand aside, Martin McGuinness said Mrs Foster's planned statement to the assembly today did not have his approval.

"If she speaks this will be in a personal capacity and not in her role as first minister," he said.

The Foyle MLA said there would be no credibility in an inquiry established solely by the DUP or in the "selective release of some documents by DUP departments".

"If the DUP does take a unilateral approach, disregarding the authority and joint nature of the Executive Office on an issue which is cross-cutting, with massive budgetary implications and which is undermining public confidence in the political institutions this will have grave consequences."

He added that the RHI crisis was not about party politics, nor was it an "orange or green issue".

"It is about restoring the credibility of the power-sharing institutions and dealing with incompetence and allegations of corruption and abuse – that is my sole focus and the sole focus of Sinn Féin," he said.

"It is my firm belief the only way to establish the truth of what has occurred and to begin to restore public faith in the institutions is for an independent, time-framed and robust investigation to take place."

An SDLP spokesman claimed pride had prevented the first minister from standing aside and pride had also stopped Sinn Féin from supporting its exclusion motion.

"The public has had enough of politicians putting their own pride first and the public interest second," he said.

"This is a time to restore faith in our institutions."

The DUP leader launched the botched £1.2 billion subsidy scheme while minister for enterprise, trade and investment.

The decision not to impose a cap on payments like a corresponding scheme in Britain is regarded as the RHI's key flaw.

The failure to put any cost control measures in place means a £400m hole will be burned in the Stormont executive's budget over the next 20 years, although Mrs Foster has said she will outline plans to prevent some of the cost at the assembly on Monday.

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