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DUP Conference: Arlene Foster says sorry for party's role in botched RHI scheme

Arlene Foster apologised for her party's role in the RHI scheme. Picture by Justin Kernoghan.

ARLENE Foster has said sorry on behalf of the DUP for its handling of the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The apology during her conference speech on Saturday came almost exactly two years after the former first minister told The Irish News that she could not be expected to “be across every jot and tittle” of the lavish green energy scheme she oversaw while Stormont’s minister for enterprise.

Mrs Foster still appears reluctant to accept any personal blame for the RHI’s litany of failings though she accepted there were “mistakes” and “misjudgements” and that her party’s “past decisions and actions have left a lot to be desired”.

The RHI inquiry, chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, has this year exposed multiple instances of shoddy governance on Mrs Foster’s watch.

In April, she confessed to the inquiry that she had not read the RHI legislation before getting it passed in the assembly, while amid claims that her then special adviser Andrew Crawford sought to delay the imposition of cost controls on the scheme, the DUP leader said she was “accountable but not responsible” for his actions.

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On Saturday, the former first minister acknowledged that recent months had been a “very difficult period for our party in particular and for Northern Ireland politics as a whole”.

“Some of our past decisions and actions have left a lot to be desired, and I know that they have personally hurt and offended many of our members, voters and the public,” she said.

She said Sir Patrick’s inquiry, which will publish its report next year, had “been difficult for many individually and painful for the party collectively”.

“No party would want to have all of its dealings exposed for all to see at a public inquiry, especially in the unique system of government we have, with the struggles and strains required to make it work – but I make no excuses,” she said.

“Today as leader of the party I apologise – as a party we are deeply, deeply sorry for the mistakes we made, and for the things we got wrong during that period.”

Arlene Foster was asked about RHI by the Irish News in October 2016:

The DUP leader said she was determined that her party would “learn the lessons from RHI” and how “government business was conducted at Stormont more generally”.

The role and remit of special advisers, and ensuring ministers with the best capability are appointed, were among the lessons that needed to be learned, she said.

There was also a “strong case” for a fundamental appraisal of the regional civil service and that consideration should be given to extending the remit of Whitehall’s officials to the north.

In reference to claims by a senior civil servant that minutes of important meetings were not taken to avoid later disclosure, Mrs Foster said: “Proper records must be kept and we must recognise that greater transparency will add value to public debate.”

She said the party would work hard to “make amends” and seek to regain the support and trust of those who were “upset” by the revelations around the scandal.

In what appeared to a potential proposal to break the deadlock around an Irish language act, Mrs Foster said: “We need a new cultural deal for everyone in Northern Ireland that respects difference and fosters understanding.

“It is in unionism’s interests for those from all backgrounds to feel comfortable in a Northern Ireland at peace with itself.”

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