Belfast Telegraph

RHI scandal: SDLP to table motion of no confidence to exclude Arlene Foster as Stormont First Minister

Danny Kinahan: This is a national scandal and Westminster should understand its full extent

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
First Minister Arlene Foster

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood is to table a motion of no confidence to exclude Arlene Foster as first minister while she continues to face questions about her role in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

Mr Eastwood said Mrs Foster has lost the confidence of the public and of the Assembly and must now stand aside or face exclusion from office while she faces questions about her conduct.

He called on Sinn Fein members to sign the motion, which requires 30 signatures.

Mr Eastwood said: "The SDLP will table a motion of no confidence to exclude Arlene Foster as first minister while she continues to face these critical questions and until she has accounted for her conduct in relation to the Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco.

"Ms Foster should follow the precedent set by her predecessor and resign to restore confidence in the office of First Minister while these questions hang over her. She has lost all credibility and anything less will further erode faith in our institutions. If the First Minister will not stand aside, then the Assembly must act to remove her from office and fully scrutinise this scandal."

The RHI aimed to cut the cost of green energy to encourage people to move off fossil fuels but ended up landing ministers with a massive overspend.

It incentivised the installation of costly eco-friendly heating systems by paying a tariff per kilowatt of heat burned over a 20-year period.

However, unlike in the rest of the UK, in Northern Ireland no cap or payment tier system was placed on the money that could be claimed in proportion to the size of boiler and the hours it was operated.

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That resulted in the RHI tariff paid out being higher than the cost of fuel needed to run the boilers - meaning the more businesses burnt, the more they earned.

The DUP said delays in getting the scheme closed was down to obtaining the necessary financial and legal approvals.
The DUP said delays in getting the scheme closed was down to obtaining the necessary financial and legal approvals.

Thousands signed up to the RHI - a deluge that ultimately forced its closure, but not before Stormont had been left with a huge future bill.

Overall, more than £1 billion of public money will be paid by 2036 to Northern Ireland-based businesses which signed up to the scheme. Around £400 million of that will be paid out by the Stormont Executive.

Meanwhile Ulster Unionist MP, Danny Kinahan, has said that the British government should not ignore the hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money set to be wasted through the scheme.

Mr Kinahan raised the issue during Cabinet Office questions earlier today.

The South Antrim MP said: "It’s important that the scale of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal is understood in Parliament.

"I took the opportunity today during Cabinet Office questions to raise the point that £400million will be wasted from the Northern Ireland block grant.  This is taxpayers’ money literally going up in smoke.

"I was disappointed to receive the usual response from the Cabinet Office Minister that it was inappropriate to comment on devolved matters.

"While there is an ongoing Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee inquiry into this matter, I hope the UK Government will also keep a close eye on proceedings given that following the GB model would not have seen us in this position.

"This is a national scandal and Westminster should understand its full extent."

Stormont's Assembly is to hold a special sitting early next week to discuss the overspending scheme, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister said.

Assembly members will be recalled from the Christmas recess to discuss issues which have left the taxpayer facing what critics claim could be a £400 million bill.

A statement from the ministers said: "We have today asked the Speaker to convene a special sitting of the Assembly early next week to address issues surrounding the RHI.

"This will facilitate a full statement to be made by the First Minister to members on the matters of public concern relating to RHI.

"RHI was discussed by the Executive today and ministers around the table underlined the seriousness of the issues involved and the importance of restoring public confidence.

"It was also emphasised that detailed plans are being finalised to significantly reduce the projected losses in the years ahead."

Arlene Foster has faced intense public scrutiny over her role in the RHI when she was economy minister.

The DUP leader and First Minister rejected calls for her resignation over her handling of the error-ridden scheme that has left Stormont facing an overspend in the next 20 years.

The Assembly's Public Accounts Committee is investigating the RHI furore.

The First Minister, who has been accused of not doing enough to pursue whistleblower allegations that sought to expose flaws in the system, has already indicated a willingness to answer questions on the matter.

Mrs Foster's acknowledgement that one of her former special advisers - Stephen Brimstone - was an RHI applicant, and confirmation from the DUP that the brother of Andrew Crawford, another of her former special advisers, was also on the scheme have led political rivals to assert that the First Minister must have had an intimate knowledge of its workings.

There is no suggestion Mr Brimstone or Mr Crawford's brother were anything other than legitimate claimants.

European Commission said it has no reason to believe RHI breached state aid rules "at this stage, based on available information."

The Belfast Telegraph first reported on Stormont's failure to control the scheme in July.

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