Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney hits out at 'juvenile journalists' over his party's confusion on RHI investigation
First Minister Arlene Foster's position 'untenable' if she does not step aside for probe, says Sinn Fein MLA
Sinn Fein chairman Declan Kearney hit out at "juvenile journalists" over the confusion surrounding the type of investigation needed into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal - confusion which was generated by his own party.
The senior republican also said if Arlene Foster does not stand aside for an investigation her position will be "untenable".
The party generated confusion over how it wants to see the multi-million pound seriously flawed RHI scheme investigated.
Sinn Fein deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, MLA Conor Murphy and Belfast councillor JJ Magee have all called for a public enquiry.
However, the party and its leader Gerry Adams have rowed back from this, instead calling for a "robust and thorough investigation".
It said it did not support a public enquiry given the length of time it could take to complete and the added cost to the taxpayer.
However, chairman and South Antrim MLA Declan Kearney further muddied the waters on Monday.
A statement was sent out in his name by the party that morning repeating the call for a "public enquiry". It was withdrawn and reissued with the word "public" omitted at lunch time.
Sinn Fein blamed a "typo", however, Mr Kearney again reissued the original statement personally, late on Monday night.
Speaking on the BBC's Stephen Nolan show, Mr Kearney again rowed back from calling for a public inquiry saying there was a need for a "independent time-framed robust and transparent investigation overseen by an international jurist appointed by the attorney general".
He again repeated that his party wanted to avoid the potentially high costs and time needed for a public enquiry.
"The danger of a prolonged public inquiry is that it will let the people involved off the hook who have questions to answer that are absolutely central to getting to the bottom of this scandal," he said.
On the confusion generated by his party, the Sinn Fein leader said: "I know there are some sections of the media, maybe even a few juvenile journalists who are trying to frantically make some issue over Sinn Fein's stance on this issue.
"But the position is clear, it is consistent and it is a sole position in relation to the need for an independent time-framed and robust investigation."
He added: "This is not about Sinn Fein and journalists like Sam McBride dancing on the head of a pin over a public enquiry, let's set that to the side and get the focus on where it needs to be on the restoration of public confidence in the institutions."
News Letter political editor Sam McBride in response said the confusion had been of Sinn Fein's own making.
Mr Kearney also said there was a serious crisis at the heart of the institutions that he said where at the "tipping point". He said if First Minister Arlene Foster did not step aside her position would be "untenable".
He said it would be the "second time she will have compromised the joint nature of her office" and elections could follow.
"There's a distinct possibility that if the DUP leader does not follow Sinn Fein's advice and step aside to allow for a robust independent investigation in order to restore public confidence in the political institutions, we are arguably into a situation where we will see an Assembly election," he said.
He said his party was ready to go to the polls, "if necessary".
The Renewable Heating Incentive is expected to cost the taxpayer over £400m. Government departments have been at odds over the full cost with the DUP Department of Economy saying it will be a maximum of £490m over 20 years, while the Sinn Fein led Department of Finance says that figure is over £600m.
The scandal arose after caps were not put in place to restrict tariffs on cash paid out to businesses who used the scheme to install and run biomass boilers. When the cost of the wood pellets fuel used by the boilers plummeted, the fees paid out remained at a higher level meaning for every pound spent, businesses were receiving £1.60.
Some businesses were found just to use the heating in order to rake in as much money as they could. One empty barn was found to be heated in order to generate profit from the scheme.
The scheme was set up by Arlene Foster who was Enterprise Minister at the time. Last month in a special sitting of the Assembly she apologised for the lack of controls but defended her role.