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Arlene Foster: What she said about Bell's RHI claims, bullying and stepping aside

Northern Ireland's First Minister Arlene Foster is locked in a war of words with party colleague Jonathan Bell - here are her key quotes as the political drama continues to unfold.

On setting up the RHI scheme without caps:

“With the benefits of hindsight there should have been tariffs put in place but there weren’t at that time. I left the department in May of 2015. No problems were highlighted to me, my officials, there was no recommendation in relation to doing anything differently.”

“There were no alarm bells ringing at that time. When I was the minister, there was an underspend in the department.”

“Of course I am sorry I didn’t put in cost controls but I wasn’t advised that I needed to put in cost controls at that particular point in time.”

On the email she received from a whistle-blower:

“I knew that I had passed on any concerns to my officials that were raised with me because that’s my practice.”

“I didn’t receive allegations.”

“I was hounded for not following up on that letter, it now turns out that the reason I didn’t follow up on that letter was the fact that there were no whistleblowing claims in the letter at all, so that’s the fundamental issue around this.”

“It was whipped up into a storm by (the BBC’s) Spotlight and indeed by your programme.”

On Jonathan Bell’s motivations:

“This is Jonathan Bell’s trying to distract from the fact that, of course, he took the decision in September (2015) after being sent the submission in July (2015) to close the scheme in November (2015), thereby leaving a gap and thereby allowing a spike.

“Jonathan hasn’t spoken to me for a long period of time and I’m sure he’ll tell you why he delayed the scheme and left it open for a period of time. It would be very interesting to hear because I am bemused as to why he would leave it open for such a period of time.”

“There was no influence from the former First Minister (Peter Robinson). There was no influence from me as Finance Minister. How could I have an influence because I was at the same level as Jonathan. He took the decision to leave it open for the period of time.”

“This will all be part of the investigation (by the PAC).”

On discussing RHI issues with Martin McGuinness in January 2016:

“I had someone who came in to me that said there was fraud in relation to the RHI scheme. That person came in to me towards the end of January (2016). I was concerned obviously at that issue so I shared that – I was then, as you know, in the Executive Office as it’s now… OFMDFM, so I shared that information with the deputy First Minister because I was in a joint office.”

On her meeting with Jonathan Bell and bullying allegations:

“The Jonathan Bell that appears on your programme tonight is not the Jonathan Bell that would be familiar to many of us political colleagues, to many of us civil servants that he worked with in the department or indeed to many in the business community.”

On the plan to get RHI money back in 2017:

“We are working on a plan and the plan is going to come forward early in January. The Department of the Economy have been to see their lawyers and I think it will be a very substantial plan, so we’ll be looking forward to that coming in January.”

On Jonathan Bell’s future in the DUP:

“We will meet to discuss Jonathan’s future in the party and we have a party officers’ team that take decision such as this.”

“I think he is a very aggressive individual; he’s been very aggressive to me in the past and I think that he will try to portray himself in a particular way this evening but I think plenty of people will know exactly with Jonathan Bell is like.”

On stepping aside:

“No, I’m not stepping aside. I am the First Minister and the party leader of the DUP. I have a job to do and I’m committed to do that job.”

“Can I say to the hundreds of people who have contacted me today thank you for your support?”

“A mark of a politician isn’t in good times, it’s in challenging times. I am determined to see this through. I am determined, whilst others walk away, to make sure that we find a solution to all of this because I owe it to the people of Northern Ireland and I take my duties and responsibilities as First Minister very, very seriously.”

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