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Foster: ministers can't be accountable for the actions of their special advisors

By Staff Reporter

DUP leader Arlene Foster has claimed that Stormont ministers are not responsible for any wrongdoing by special advisors.

Speaking as she formally lodged her nomination papers in Enniskillen for the snap Assembly election, the First Minister said that even if a public inquiry finds that special advisors acted improperly, the buck does not stop with the Minister.

She also welcomed the fact that a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal had finally been set in motion.

Mrs Foster told the Fermanagh Herald: "I certainly don't fear a public inquiry. My integrity is intact, I have done nothing wrong and that will be shown."

She has also described the coming election as potentially "the most important since 1998", saying it will "decide the future direction of Northern Ireland".

But the DUP leader warned it should not be seen as a referendum on her handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Mrs Foster has also addressed allegations made on social media.

"That's in the hands of my husband's solicitors, so that will be dealt with," she told the BBC after commenting: "... none of my friends or family are even remotely connected with the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, directly or indirectly - just for the record".

Earlier, Ms Foster defended the fact she didn't name a key party adviser at the centre of claims levelled by a top civil servant Dr Andrew McCormick when she made an Assembly statement about Stormont's botched energy scheme. She said she was aware of Dr McCormick's allegation about DUP adviser Dr Andrew Crawford when she spoke in Parliament Buildings, but insisted it would not have been right to name him as there was no evidence to confirm it.

Dr Crawford quit a month after Dr McCormick claimed at an Assembly committee hearing that he was believed to have exerted influence around the RHI scheme.

Dr McCormick, the permanent secretary at the Department of the Economy, said it was his belief, based on hearsay, that Dr Crawford had pressed to delay cost controls in the ill-fated scheme that has left taxpayers facing a £490m bill. The RHI furore led to the collapse of powersharing at Stormont.

Mrs Foster has faced criticism for not outlining the specifics of Dr McCormick's concerns when she addressed the Assembly on RHI last month, when she was still First Minister. She acknowledged she was aware of the civil servant's position on Dr Crawford ahead of speaking in the chamber. She added: "It would have been quite wrong to have named an individual on hearsay."

The DUP leader said she was confident Dr Crawford would be "absolutely cleared" in the forthcoming public inquiry.

Dr Crawford said his resignation was an "appropriate" response to the allegations against him, claiming he did not want to be a "distraction". But he insisted the public inquiry would prove he "acted with complete integrity".

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