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Sinn Fein derided as it finally adds voice to calls for RHI public inquiry

By Claire O'Boyle

Sinn Fein was accused of performing an extraordinary U-turn last night, at last joining other parties in calling for a public inquiry into the 'cash for ash' scandal.

In a direct contradiction to the party's earlier statements, Mairtin O Muilleoir said no other type of investigation was feasible, and revealed he had already spoken to the Lord Chief Justice about appointing a chair.

TUV leader Jim Allister accused the Finance Minister of playing politics before the election.

"Sinn Fein have tied themselves in knots several times about whether or not there should be a public inquiry into the 'cash for ash' scandal," he said.

"The Finance Minister's move onto the ground occupied by other parties weeks ago reeks of political opportunism in the mouth of the election."

Ulster Unionist finance spokesman Philip Smith MLA said Mr O Muilleoir's announcement raised more questions than answers.

"What on Earth is Sinn Fein's game here? One minute they are producing their own terms of reference for an independent inquiry.

"Then they are lambasting others for suggesting the Inquiries Act be used," he said yesterday. "Earlier today Declan Kearney was insisting they would not trigger an inquiry.

"Yet this afternoon they have totally turned on their heels.

"We are now left with more questions than answers. We need to know the terms of reference.

"Will the Lord Chief Justice be asked to recommend a judge to lead? Will it be a panel of one? Will Mairtin O Muilleoir give a cast iron guarantee not to suspend or fold under powers in section 13 of the Act?

"And finally, will there be an interim report as promised in Sinn Fein's original terms of reference?"

Earlier this month Sinn Fein chairman Mr Kearney was accused of flip-flopping wildly on the issue after a statement saying the party supported a public inquiry was withdrawn within two hours. The party blamed a "typo".

Adding to the confusion, he reissued the original statement the next day from his private account.

Then the party called for an "independent investigation" into the scandal.

But Mr O Muilleoir brushed aside last night's criticism over the change of heart, saying Sinn Fein had simply accepted it had "run out of road" on the issue and needed to act in the public interest. He said the party had been keen to strengthen any potential investigation - in particular ensuring there could be no ministerial interference - but with Stormont winding down for the election, he decided this was the best option.

Mr O Muilleoir said: "This inquiry will be impartial and objective.

"I will not interfere in its work. It will be tasked to get to the truth of this issue."

He guaranteed that under Sinn Fein the inquiry would be impartial and its findings would be released by the party to the public in full.

Mr O Muilleoir said he would reveal his terms of reference to the Assembly next week.

He also said it would be up to the chair to decide if additional panel members were required.

Former First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the move.

"Finally we will get some due process in and around these matters and we will get to the truth of what happened in relation to RHI scheme," she said.

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