Belfast Telegraph

Motion of no confidence in First Minister Arlene Foster defeated in Assembly

DUP leader says lack of control in RHI scheme her "deepest regret"

A motion of no confidence in First Minister Arlene Foster has been defeated in the Assembly.

Seventy-five MLAs voted in the matter. Of which 39, or 52%, voted in favour. However, the motion was defeated as it did not obtain cross-community backing.

Stormont was plunged into crisis after all members - except those in the DUP - walked out ahead of a disputed statement by Mrs Foster on her role over the Renewable Heating Incentive. Unprecedented scenes saw the DUP leader Arlene Foster address empty benches in the chamber, with only her party faithful remaining in their seats. On Monday afternoon a motion of no confidence made in Assembly. Follow the live updates below:

More: Full Arlene Foster statement to Assembly over RHI debacle

Full text of SDLP leader Eastwood's motion of no confidence in First Minister Arlene Foster 

Stormont's First Minister launched a blistering attack against political rivals and the media as she defended her handling of a botched green energy scheme.

DUP leader Arlene Foster denounced opposition parties as "irrelevant and impotent" as she responded to an Assembly motion of no confidence in her.

"For almost two weeks I have listened on an almost daily basis to lies presented as facts, the truth distorted out of all recognition and a public narrative created and relentlessly pursued which bears no relationship to reality," she said.

All other parties in the Assembly - including the DUP's partner in government, Sinn Fein - have called on her to stand down pending an independent probe into an error-ridden scheme that has landed the Northern Ireland taxpayer an estimated bill of £400 million.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was due to offer a proportion of the cost businesses had to pay to run eco-friendly boilers, but it ended up paying significantly more than the cost of fuel, enabling applicants to "burn to earn" - getting free heat and making a profit as they did it.

Claims of widespread abuse include a farmer allegedly set to pocket around £1 million in the next 20 years for heating an empty shed. Mrs Foster was the minister in charge of the scheme at its inception.

Assured of the party strength to defeat the SDLP motion of no confidence, Mrs Foster branded it a "kamikaze" attempt at a "constitutional coup d'etat".

"I have to say it's a coup d'etat more worthy of a Carry On film," she added.

The DUP leader said she would not run away from her responsibilities.

"I remain as committed today as I did on the day I was elected as First Minister to fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith."

All non-DUP MLAs had earlier walked out of the chamber ahead of a statement by Mrs Foster.

The bitter row unfolded after Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness withdrew his approval for Mrs Foster to appear to explain her role in the RHI.

All statements by Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness's joint office need the support of both sides of the power-sharing executive.

Mr McGuinness's move prompted members from all parties but the DUP to question the validity of Mrs Foster's appearance.

It led to the bizarre situation of Mrs Foster giving a statement to a three-quarters empty chamber and then answering questions tabled by her own members.

The majority of absent MLAs returned later for the motion of no confidence debate. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood tabled the proposal.

"This is biggest public finance scandal ever to hit these institutions," he said.

"As this scandal has unfolded it has suited some to muddy the waters but we must not be distracted.

"So far, digging into this scandal has uncovered staggering incompetence - digging deeper has the potential to uncover corruption."

Mr Eastwood said Mrs Foster must do the "dignified and decent" thing and stand down.

"We can't go on like this. The longer the First Minister clings on the more her credibility will fade," he said. "And let me assure the First Minister, Christmas will not save her."

The SDLP later said in a statement: "As of this moment, Arlene Foster no longer enjoys the support of the Assembly as First Minister.

"The First Minister lost today’s confidence vote, even in spite of a disappearing act from Sinn Féin who talked tough but went missing when it counted. Despite saying that Arlene Foster should stand aside, Sinn Féin couldn’t muster a single member to vote to stand her aside. People will cast their own judgment on that particular abdication of responsibility.

2Over £400m of taxpayer’s money has gone up in smoke. When the budget is presented in January, that will manifest itself in cuts to already stretched public services. This situation is not going away and Christmas will not save the First Minister.

"What is needed now is a judge led public inquiry will full powers to compel evidence and witnesses. The SDLP will now begin to chart an alternative way to hold this government to account."

The "cash for ash" scandal reached fever pitch last week when former DUP economy minister Jonathan Bell broke ranks to level a series of claims against his leader and party advisers.

In a TV interview, a tearful Mr Bell said God told him to come clean as he claimed a "highly agitated and angry" Mrs Foster demanded he keep the RHI open for an extra fortnight despite its huge losses.

Mrs Foster strongly rejected the claims. Mr Bell was suspended by the party over the weekend.

On Monday, Mr Bell claimed he had an email containing critical information about the scandal. He said he was being prevented from publishing details of the message and called for that ban to be lifted.

Much of the scrutiny on Mrs Foster has focused on how she responded to concerns raised by a whistleblower during her time as economy minister.

There was a flurry of claims last week about whether the individual raised concerns directly to Mrs Foster, or if she only outlined them after Mrs Foster passed her on to meet officials.

The DUP published an email from the whistleblower last week that made no mention of her RHI concerns - the party cited it to demand an apology from those who said she should have done more.

Another email has since emerged, sent directly to Mrs Foster in 2013, that raised specific concerns about the scheme.

During her statement, Mrs Foster said of the whistleblower: "She deserves our high respect and a sincere apology on behalf of my former department, which should not have dismissed her claims with disbelief, but examined them with diligence.

"It is no exaggeration to say that had she been listened to on any of the three occasions when she approached DETI, this crisis would have been avoided."

Regarding what information was passed directly to her, she added: "Unfortunately, it has been difficult to establish the exact facts around contact between this concerned citizen and myself and the department."

How each MLA voted in motion

Mr Steven Agnew Other AYE

Mr Steve Aiken OBE Unionist AYE

Mr Andy Allen Unionist AYE

Mr Jim Allister Unionist AYE

Mr Sydney Anderson Unionist NO

Ms Kellie Armstrong Other AYE

Mr Alex Attwood Nationalist AYE

Ms Clare Bailey Other AYE

Mrs Rosemary Barton Unionist AYE

Mr Doug Beattie MC Unionist AYE

Mr Roy Beggs Unionist AYE

Mr Maurice Bradley Unionist NO

Ms Paula Bradley Unionist NO

Ms Sinéad Bradley Nationalist AYE

Ms Paula Bradshaw Other AYE

Mr Keith Buchanan Unionist NO

Mr Thomas Buchanan Unionist NO

Ms Joanne Bunting Unionist NO

Mrs Pam Cameron Unionist NO

Mr Gerry Carroll Other AYE

Mr Alan Chambers Unionist AYE

Mr Trevor Clarke Unionist NO

Mr Stewart Dickson Other AYE

Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson Unionist AYE

Mr Gordon Dunne Unionist NO

Mr Mark Durkan Nationalist AYE

Mr Alex Easton Unionist NO

Mr Colum Eastwood Nationalist AYE

Dr Stephen Farry Other AYE

Mr David Ford Other AYE

Mrs Arlene Foster Unionist NO

Mr Paul Frew Unionist NO

Mr Paul Girvan Unionist NO

Mr Paul Givan Unionist NO

Mrs Brenda Hale Unionist NO

Mr Simon Hamilton Unionist NO

Ms Claire Hanna Nationalist AYE

Mr David Hilditch Unionist NO

Mr William Humphrey Unionist NO

Mr Ross Hussey Unionist AYE

Mr William Irwin Unionist NO

Mr Danny Kennedy Unionist AYE

Mrs Emma Little Pengelly Unionist NO

Ms Carla Lockhart Unionist NO

Mr Phillip Logan Unionist NO

Mrs Naomi Long Other AYE

Mr Trevor Lunn Other AYE

Mr Gordon Lyons Unionist NO

Mr Chris Lyttle Other AYE

Mr Eamonn McCann Other AYE

Mr Nelson McCausland Unionist NO

Mr Daniel McCrossan Nationalist AYE

Mr Patsy McGlone Nationalist AYE

Mr Colin McGrath Nationalist AYE

Miss Michelle McIlveen Unionist NO

Mr Harold McKee Unionist AYE

Mr Justin McNulty Nationalist AYE

Mr Richie McPhillips Nationalist AYE

Mr Adrian McQuillan Unionist NO

Ms Nichola Mallon Nationalist AYE

Mr Gary Middleton Unionist NO

Lord Morrow of Clogher Valley Unionist NO

Mr Gerry Mullan Nationalist AYE

Mr Mike Nesbitt Unionist AYE

Mrs Sandra Overend Unionist AYE

Mrs Jenny Palmer Unionist AYE

Mr Edwin Poots Unionist NO

Mr George Robinson Unionist NO

Mr Alastair Ross Unionist NO

Mr Philip Smith Unionist AYE

Mr Christopher Stalford Unionist NO

Mr Mervyn Storey Unionist NO

Ms Claire Sugden Unionist NO

Mr Peter Weir Unionist NO

Mr Jim Wells Unionist NO


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