Belfast Telegraph

SDLP turns the screw on republicans over inquiry

By Staff Reporter

The SDLP last night intensified pressure on its nationalist rivals to back a full public inquiry into the bungled RHI scheme.

Finance spokeswoman Claire Hanna said the form of investigation into the scandal currently proposed by Sinn Fein would require a new law to give it the power to compel witnesses and documents.

"For all the shapes and proposals Sinn Fein want to throw, the only way to get answers to the questions around RHI is with the Inquiries Act, which provides a statutory basis for a public inquiry with powers to compel people and papers and the highest standards of transparency and accountability," the South Belfast MLA said.

"For whatever reason, Sinn Fein continues to resist this approach, with their latest proposal (of many) having no statutory basis. The powers Sinn Fein are proposing cannot simply be plucked from thin air, and the only way to enact their strategy is by creating new law, which the DUP would probably try to veto anyway.

"This totally contradicts their claim that a public inquiry is the slower option, considering non-Executive legislation can take years to pass."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party finance spokesman Philip Smith said the Executive must stop acting like "angsty teenagers".

"The DUP and Sinn Fein have been quick to claim they are the victims of trial by media, yet they seem perfectly content to conduct Executive business over the airwaves," the MLA said.

Mr Smith said listening to an interview Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir gave yesterday on the level of engagement he has had with the Economy Minister "was cringeworthy at best".

"It is a further demonstration of the dysfunctionality the DUP and Sinn Fein expect the public to tolerate," he said.

"It would be easy to forget that we still don't have a budget, or indeed a plan to deal with the implications of Brexit.

"But perhaps that is the Executive's hope. Frankly, the people of Northern Ireland deserve better. They were promised a fresh start, but they are being served up a fresh crisis. It's simply not good enough."

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the ongoing RHI scandal meant other important issues were falling by the wayside.

"There is now a pressing requirement to put in place a budget for the forthcoming financial year," he said.

"Delays have real consequences for public sector organisations, and the community and voluntary sector wanting to plan ahead. For some, they may have to put staff on protective notice.

"If a snap election is called, there is a danger of no budget being put in place and a budget having to be imposed via the Civil Service."

The embattled First Minister was criticised yesterday by the Belfast Feminist Network (BFN) after Mrs Foster claimed some of her opponents were motivated by misogyny. BFN spokeswoman Elaine Crory said misogyny did not include being asked to hold oneself accountable for "at best, gross incompetence in the overseeing, approval and promotion of a scheme that will cost the NI taxpayer an obscene amount over many decades".

She said: "We condemn misogyny in all its forms. This includes some of the cruder cartoon depictions of Foster and some of the public discourse about her - and indeed about any woman politician who is in the public crosshairs.

"These calls for Foster's resignation would be heard even if she was a man, and attempts to claim otherwise are disingenuous at best. The First Minister does the women of Northern Ireland a great disservice by cheapening a struggle that so many of us face as we navigate our work and public life."

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