Belfast Telegraph

RHI scandal: Martin McGuinness has repeated his call to First Minister Arlene Foster to step aside

By Rebecca Black

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has repeated his call to his ministerial partner Arlene Foster to step aside as First Minister.

In a New Year's message issued this morning the Sinn Fein man said there is a need for "real leadership if confidence is to be restored in the political institutions in 2017".

He has also lambasted the DUP, claiming they have failed to deal with recent controversy "responsibly and adequately".

Mrs Foster has come under fire from every party at Stormont over the last month as more details emerge about the controversial Renewable Heating Initiative (RHI) scheme.

It emerged earlier this year that the RHI programme, which was launched by DETI in November 2012 to encourage more people to invest in renewable energy technologies, was fundamentally flawed.

Under its terms, people who successfully applied were able to earn money for pointlessly burning fuel, without breaking the law while doing so.

Earlier this month former DETI minister Jonathan Bell dramatically made a number of shocking claims about how the scheme was handled in an explosive interview with the Stephen Nolan show.

Mr Bell has not commented on the issue since then, but he has indicated that he is considering taking legal action against Mrs Foster over comments she made in a responding interview on the shame show.

After the programme was aired, the SDLP put to the Assembly a no-confidence motion against Mrs Foster as First Minister, but it failed.

Previously Mrs Foster said she would resist her opponents' "fevered quest" to build her "political gallows".

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey has described the RHI debacle as the "biggest financial scandal since partition in 1921".

He has called for Mrs Foster to take responsibility.

"Minister Foster oversaw the development and subsequent implementation of the Northern Ireland version of the RHI Scheme," he said.

"The recent publication of letters which she sent to Banks proves that she actively promoted the scheme as well.

“Mrs Foster, therefore, had responsibility for the design, implementation and promotion of the RHI Scheme.

"That it has gone dramatically wrong, costing the Northern Ireland Executive over £490 million (and rising according to the Finance Minister) means that it is without doubt the costliest financial scandal since partition in 1921.

"Mrs Foster continues to argue that she was effectively let down by officials in her Department. It is perfectly possible that some of her officials did make misjudgements, but only a proper investigation will be able to ascertain that for sure."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness had previously called for Mrs Foster to step aside while an investigation is carried out into the RHI scheme.

The First Minister has also backed calls for an inquiry to be carried out.

Mr McGuinness has now repeated his call for Mrs Foster to step aside.

"There is also no doubt that we are facing a serious growing political crisis in the North as public confidence in the political institutions has been grievously undermined by the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) debacle and the DUP's failure to deal responsibly and adequately with it," he said.

"In order to address these challenges the DUP and its leader Arlene Foster need to accept there is an overwhelming desire in the community to deal with this issue and for Arlene Foster to step aside as First Minister pending a preliminary report.

“That would allow for an independent investigation to take place, which is transparent, robust, time-framed and led by an independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction appointed by the Attorney General. A rigorous process to recoup as much of the money as possible must also be put in place.

"We need to restore public confidence in the credibility of the political institutions, ensuring they deliver for the people."

Elsewhere in his New Year's message, Mr McGuinness said he is committed to securing "designated special status for the north within the EU", and called on the British government to "step up to the plate" on the issue of dealing with the legacy of the past.

“They are currently holding up legacy inquests, denying justice to victims and their families in the process," he claimed.

“The British government must implement the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House and release the funds requested by the Lord Chief Justice for legacy inquests.

 “The Irish government must hold the British government to account on its failure to implement its agreements on legacy.

"2017 will no doubt be a year of challenges and there is a clear need for real leadership if public confidence is to be restored in the political institutions in the days and weeks ahead.

"I would like to wish everyone a happy, safe and peaceful New Year."

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