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DUP 'wall of strength' around First Minister as Foster tries to carry on with normal duties

By Chris McCullough

First Minister Arlene Foster says she has yet to watch the full TV interview with DUP colleague Jonathan Bell about the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

Mrs Foster was surrounded by a wall of strength by party heavyweights yesterday as she opened the new office for DUP MLA Christopher Stalford in Sandy Row, south Belfast.

Appearing in a calm and relaxed mood, the First Minister met supporters and friends in the new office, and insisted she had yet to watch the BBC NI programme.

Keeping her company during the office opening was DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds, as well as senior party colleagues including Lord Morrow, Edwin Poots, Paul Givan and Trevor Clarke.

All of them were quick to defend Foster in light of the allegations made by former minister Mr Bell regarding the 'cash for ash' fiasco.

As she described it herself, it had been a "tough old week" for the First Minister after Mr Bell accused her of being abusive and of ordering a delay in the closure of the flawed green energy scheme.

They are claims she strenuously denies.

The First Minister was on her way home to Fermanagh when Mr Bell's TV interview with Stephen Nolan was aired on Thursday night, and therefore was unable to watch it.

"I left Stormont Castle late on Thursday night and it takes me one-and-a-half hours to get home to Fermanagh," she said.

"I didn't see the interview with Jonathan Bell on TV, although I have read the transcripts.

"I may watch the interview this weekend - but I'll only watch the first half, as I don't like to see myself on TV."

The First Minister added that she had not made contact with Mr Bell since the interview was aired, nor he with her.

"No, I have not called him or spoke to him since the interview," she confirmed.

"And he has not called me either."

Mr Bell could face disciplinary action by the DUP, but there is no set timeframe in which this may happen.

According to DUP sources, the party will meet next week to discuss the allegations made by Mr Bell and decisions will be taken then as to what action should be taken.

Meanwhile, the SDLP says it has secured the 30 votes required to table a motion requesting the First Minister to stand aside pending a full investigation.

Politicians from the Ulster Unionist Party, Alliance Party, Green Party, People Before Profit and Traditional Unionist Voice have signed the motion, which will be debated in the Assembly on Monday.

Several attempts to make contact with Mr Bell yesterday proved fruitless.

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