Belfast Telegraph

The huge gulf between the DUP and Sinn Fein is laid bare

The DUP position: 'The truth must come out... I have been disgracefully maligned in most vicious manner'

Statement issued yesterday by First Minister Arlene Foster:

 I indicated last evening that I am disappointed that Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister. Today the consequences of what has happened is that it is much more difficult to deal with the RHI problems, which I want to see resolved in a way that restores public confidence.

I very much regret that as politicians we have been unable to find a way through the issues and the impact of that failure is to penalise the people of Northern Ireland, who have now no effective functioning Executive at a time of major challenges.

For our part we have sought to offer up solutions to the problems over the last number of weeks. We had a number of meetings with Sinn Fein which, had the political will existed on their part, could have allowed us all to avoid the situation we now find ourselves in.

Indeed, the reason the Assembly was recalled on December 19 was based on the fact we had reached agreement at the Executive on December 14 with Sinn Fein to do so, and had a clear plan in place to deal with the need to hold a full investigation and to bring costs under control.

There was never any political difference of opinion on the need to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure the overspend was eliminated. The major sticking point between us over the last few weeks has been the fact that Sinn Fein would not agree to the establishment of an inquiry until I agreed to step aside as First Minister.

For me, I felt to have done so would have led to the conclusion that I was guilty of something improper, which is not the case.

I am no longer the First Minister so therefore there is no reason, under Sinn Fein's reasoning, why an investigation cannot now be established. If, however, Sinn Fein are still unwilling to allow an investigation to be established I intend to ask for an investigation, on the basis of the terms of reference discussed as part of our discussions with Sinn Fein, to be set up under the Inquiries Act 2005. I am determined that the public will get the facts in an independent and impartial way, free from party political demands and bias.

I want to see an investigation commenced quickly so that it will be independently demonstrated that I did nothing wrong, and that my integrity is vindicated.

This is vitally important from a political perspective but also fundamental for me on a personal basis. I have been quite disgracefully maligned in the most vicious manner, and therefore it is of the utmost importance that the truth comes out.

Detailed work on cost controls is ongoing and material will be sent to the Department of Finance. We want any draft legislation to bring spending into line and the Minister for the Economy will consult with other parties on this. Simon (Hamilton) will, later this week, have more to say on both transparency and cost controls.

For my part, I am determined to do all I can to help put right what went wrong, to find out through an investigation why things went wrong, and to seek to restore the credibility of Stormont in the eyes of the public.

The DUP has not given up or walked away. We want truth, transparency and cost control even though others would rather play high stakes politics with Northern Ireland's stability.

However, even if we were to address all of the problems that flowed from the RHI, it is clear that Sinn Fein have additional concerns which they are attempting to introduce into discussions on their own terms. Attempting to frame negotiations in a way that is acceptable to one party only cannot be the basis for successful discussions.

A DUP delegation met with the Secretary of State yesterday afternoon and I indicated to him our willingness to take part in any discussions to see whether a way forward can be found. I remain open to further discussion with Sinn Fein, or any of the other parties in the Assembly over the next few days. If necessary, we will take our case to the electorate and use it as a platform for further discussions.

I have never taken the verdict of the electorate of Northern Ireland for granted, and while an election is not of our making, we trust the judgment of the people. Last May people gave us a mandate, and despite all of the challenges I remain dedicated to representing all the people of Northern Ireland. I want to do what is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and I want us to be able to build a better future.

Despite the undoubted setbacks over these last few weeks we have achieved much for Northern Ireland over the years. While at this moment in time it may seem all hope is lost, I still believe we can work to achieve better and brighter days ahead.

The Sinn Fein position: 'Martin's position was absolutely untenable... resigning was last thing he wanted, but it was only option'

 

Gerry Adams has said Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness was left with no option but to resign.

The Sinn Fein president said Mr McGuinness's position had been rendered "untenable" by Arlene Foster's refusal to step aside over the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Mr McGuinness would not have taken the decision to quit lightly, Mr Adams said. "The position was absolutely untenable," he told RTE.

"He's invested 10 years. He worked with Ian Paisley when people said that wasn't possible.

"He worked with Peter Robinson. He's a tireless worker.

"He's reached out, and discommoded republicans at times with his outreach. So you can be sure that him coming to this decision, with our full support, was done reluctantly.

"It was the last thing that Martin wanted to do."

Mr Adams said Mr McGuinness and Mr Paisley managed to make power-sharing work.

But he accused Mrs Foster of failing because she did not acknowledge all the people of the north. In Belfast yesterday Mrs Foster said she was open to talks with Sinn Fein to avert a meltdown of the power-sharing institutions.

She also announced plans for a public inquiry into the RHI debacle. However, Sinn Fein branded the DUP move "an act of desperation".

Michelle O'Neill said: "If the DUP were serious about addressing the political crisis then Arlene Foster would have stepped aside a month ago, as Martin McGuinness suggested privately to her.

"They refused to do so and arrogantly attempted to brazen out the public anger.

"Arlene Foster did not remove herself from office, Martin McGuinness removed her to allow the people to have their say.

"There is widespread acceptance that the crisis of confidence in the institutions has gone way beyond the RHI scandal.

"We need good governance, transparency and accountability. We need political institutions, which deliver for all our people on the basis of equality and respect, and we need the implementation of the Good Friday and other agreements.

"Martin McGuinness made it clear that the status quo is not an option. We will not be renominating a Deputy First Minister before the election."

It came as Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir said he will not accept any botched solution to the loss of public funds through the RHI. Mr O Muilleoir said: "Today the DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed her party had been working on solutions to the RHI issue over the last number of weeks.

"For over seven months I have been requesting credible proposals from the Economy Minister. The DUP minister has brought no plan forward. In fact, a paper from the Department for the Economy was submitted to my department at 5.55pm on Monday but withdrawn 10 minutes later. My officials have continued to examine the operation of the scheme."

He added: "The operation of this scheme has been botched; I can ensure the public that I will not accept a botched solution."

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