Political news

Sammy Wilson claims Sinn Fein using RHI scandal to extract concessions

Gerry Adams has said his party's demand for Arlene Foster to step aside temporarily was a "reasonable request". Picture by Jonathan Porter, Press Eye
John Monaghan

DEMANDS by Sinn Féin for Arlene Foster to step aside are an attempt to extract concessions and deflect from Gerry Adams' own political difficulties, a senior DUP figure has claimed.

East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson suggested that Mr Adams was ramping up pressure on RHI because of criticism levelled at him by Austin Stack, the son of an Irish prison guard murdered by the IRA, and as a means of securing progress on issues such as the Irish language.

Speaking at a meeting of party activists in west Belfast's Felons Club on Saturday, Mr Adams again indicated that Sinn Féin would collapse the Executive if the First Minister continues to refuse to step aside pending a preliminary investigation into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

"If the First Minister does not take the actions that society desires and deserves and which a sustainable process of change requires, then Sinn Féin will bring this ongoing and totally unacceptable state of affairs to an end," he said.

Mr Wilson claimed the comments were "more designed to take the attention off Gerry Adams's own difficulties and put a wee bit of pressure on for some other concessions which no doubt will emerge during the week".

He added: "Sinn Féin are masters of this - it's first of all to embarrass their coalition partners but more importantly as a lead up to demand some sort of concession for laying off."

He told the Press Assocation: "Here is Arlene Foster going to come with a solution to the overspend - the other parties reject it, they bring the assembly down, they cause another expensive election in the middle of the winter time, and they are probably going to have to go back to the same solution as she was suggesting anyway."

"I can't predict how the public will react in a situation like that but I suspect there might be more sympathy for the people who tried to avoid the election rather than those who caused it."

DUP Lagan Valley MLA and former health minister Edwin Poots also dismissed the Sinn Féin calls, saying "this isn't some IRA kangaroo court in west Belfast".

At the meeting called to discuss the political fall-out from the RHI debacle, the Sinn Féin leader was joined on stage by four of his party's Executive ministers.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has not spoken publicly since before Christmas following health issues but the party has insisted he remains centrally involved in discussions.

Mr Adams said: "Arlene Foster is not a prime minister. She is a co-equal partner in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

"She can continue in that office but only for as long as Sinn Féin allows it."

Speaking in Limerick yesterday at a 60th anniversary commemoration for IRA man Seán South, the Louth TD insisted it was a "reasonable request" that Mrs Foster temporarily step aside given the "clear conflict of interest" in her role in setting up the RHI scheme.

With DUP assembly members and a number of MPs expected to attend the party's first weekly meeting of the year at Stormont this afternoon, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called yesterday on them to intervene.

"They (the DUP) have tried the orange card, the scapegoat card, the misogyny card and everything else in between. The one approach they have failed to adopt is showing a bit of humility and honesty.

"It is now decision time for senior members of the DUP - party loyalty must have its limits. No one individual should be bigger than their party and no one individual can be bigger than the privileged office they occupy."

Alliance leader Naomi Long said "public confidence" required Mrs Foster to step aside.

"People won't accept a deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin over this scandal. Public confidence requires those against whom there are major allegations to at least temporarily step aside."

Meanwhile, the Ulster Unionists called on DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton to publish proposals to reduce the overspend on RHI which the minister had said were under consideration back in July.

South Antrim MLA Steve Aiken said: "Six months later, what were the options that the minister was actively considering at the time of the Audit Office report, and what have become of these options? It is time to end this nonsense."

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