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Seven days to save Stormont: Foster still refusing to stand aside - McGuinness may resign his post

THE clock is ticking as pressure mounts on the DUP and Sinn Fein to end their stand-off on a probe into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

By Claire O’Boyle

Arlene Foster has said she could accept a full public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Writing in today's Belfast Telegraph, the First Minister said the only obstacle to an investigation under Sinn Fein's own terms is the party's demand for her to step aside.

More:  Arlene Foster: I want an investigation into RHI and will work to right what went wrong     

"It is odd that they would provide the person they are seeking to investigate a veto into the holding of the investigation," the DUP leader writes.

"One can only assume that they believe that I will want this investigation to report as quickly as possible because I believe that it will clear my name, which in turn, suggests they must also believe that will be the case."

Mrs Foster also wrote: "I should also say that, while I do not believe that it is the best way to proceed, in order to make progress I could have lived with an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005, as proposed by some of the opposition parties."

Meanwhile, senior DUP figures last night hit back at Gerry Adams over his threat that Sinn Fein would "bring to an end" the crisis at Stormont unless the First Minister steps aside.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson vowed that the DUP would not bow to "political bullying" and said calls for Mrs Foster to quit revealed the party's "double standards".

Pressure has piled on the First Minister to stand aside to allow an investigation into her role in the Renewable Heat Incentive.

Mrs Foster, who presided over the RHI when economy minister, has refused to leave the stage to facilitate a probe into the scandal that has left Stormont facing a £490m bill.

In a hard-hitting speech at the weekend, Mr Adams made it clear that Sinn Fein would not hesitate in pulling the plug on the political institutions if she refused to step aside.

But Mr Donaldson said: "It's a bit rich coming from Gerry Adams when you consider his background and that he refused to step aside in the past when he was under investigation.

"Indeed, the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also refused to step aside when he was the subject of scrutiny under the Saville Inquiry.

"I think there are double standards operating here. It has been quite galling to hear all this from Sinn Fein."

Speaking in west Belfast on Saturday, Mr Adams said: "Arlene Foster is not a prime minister.

"She is a co-equal partner in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister. She can continue in that office but only for as long as Sinn Fein allows it...

"If the First Minister does not take the actions that society desires and deserves and which a sustainable process of change requires, then Sinn Fein will bring this ongoing and totally unacceptable state of affairs to an end."

The Sinn Fein president repeated his calls for Mrs Foster to step aside at a gathering in Limerick yesterday, and suggested there was a clear conflict of interest if she remained at her desk.

He said: "Arlene Foster, who was the minister in charge, refuses to step aside. This is unacceptable."

Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir also warned an election would be inevitable if Mrs Foster does not stand down.

Mr Donaldson said he was concerned his political rivals were pushing the Executive to the point of no return.

"There is a danger in the way Sinn Fein are pushing this towards the precipice," he said.

"I am bound to pose the question to them: do they really want to cause the collapse of the institutions, with all the consequences that would have?

"It is up to them.

"The DUP didn't give in when Sinn Fein were supporting the IRA's campaign of terror and trying to intimidate people, and we're not going to be intimidated by this kind of political bullying either.

We have no intention of bowing to this pressure from Sinn Fein.

"The DUP want to get this issue resolved, we want to find a solution that safeguards the taxpayer and that's what the public wants.

"I hope the other parties will help us achieve that."

The First Minister is set to face party colleagues today in crunch talks at Stormont.

Ahead of that, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood urged DUP members to take control and force Mrs Foster to step aside. "Since this scandal broke the DUP have used every weapon in their political arsenal," he said.

"They have tried the orange card, the scapegoat card, the misogyny card and everything else in between. The one approach they have failed to adopt is showing a bit of humility and honesty.

"Arlene Foster's initial denials have now turned to desperation. It is now decision time for senior members of the DUP - party loyalty must have its limits.

"No one individual should be bigger than their party and no one individual can be bigger than the privileged office they occupy."

Ulster Unionist MLA Steve Aiken called on Economy Minister Simon Hamilton to publish details of the cost-stemming measures he was considering back in July, saying: "It is time to end this nonsense.

"The minister should publish all the options that have been under 'active' consideration by him, both then and now."

Alliance leader Naomi Long added: "It is clear the Executive does need yet another fresh start.

"But what we don't need is a situation in which it continues to be a two-party carve-up, and all we get is a better balanced division of the spoils of office between the DUP and Sinn Fein."

Speaker Robin Newton will face a motion of no confidence from Sinn Fein over his decision to let Mrs Foster speak in the chamber without the approval of the Deputy First Minister.

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