Belfast Telegraph

Sammy Wilson believes Sinn Fein will back DUP plans to avoid Stormont collapse

By Suzanne Breen

The DUP has said it is confident that Sinn Fein will support its proposals to claw back the £490m overspend in the 'cash for ash' scandal - and that the collapse of the Executive and a snap election will be avoided.

After another day of political drama, Sammy Wilson accused Mairtin O Muilleoir of "grandstanding" after the Sinn Fein Finance Minister dismissed the DUP's plan, insisting that if Arlene Foster didn't temporarily step aside the Executive would fall.

More: Poll: Arlene Foster's leadership rating plummets from 49% to 29%

The DUP MP told the Belfast Telegraph: "Mairtin O Muilleoir's ego is hurt because he wasn't personally involved in drawing up the emergency proposals.

"But I've every confidence that he will settle down and that Sinn Fein will support our plan when the Executive meets next week.

"I don't for a second believe that Sinn Fein wants to collapse the political institutions. They are looking for an exit, and the way out for them is to endorse our proposals."

Mr Wilson stated that an Assembly election "isn't the answer".

He said: "An election will solve nothing. The DUP is bringing a credible plan to the table to resolve the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) issue.

"The recent shouting match between ourselves and Sinn Fein is just a blip. We will both get over it. We have a great record of working together since our administration was formed last May.

"We both want that to continue. We can't be handing over power to that other bunch who call themselves the Opposition.

"The Conservative and Liberal Democrats said a lot worse to each other in Westminster than we have - and they continued as coalition partners for five years."

Mr Wilson said that under the proposals drawn up by Economy Minister Simon Hamilton, the rate of pay to RHI beneficiaries would be reduced.

"The plan is to change payments for those who applied to the scheme between 2011 and November 2015 from the high rate they have been receiving to the current reduced rate.

"That will stop all excessive payments and prevent abuse of the system, while also offering a reasonable rate of return to the many genuine investors," he said.

The SDLP, Alliance and TUV are deeply sceptical of the viability of the proposals that the DUP claims will reduce the nearly £500m overspend to zero.

Those parties believe that implementing the plan would involve a breach of contract, which RHI beneficiaries could overturn in the courts.

However, Mr Wilson insisted that the proposals were "as litigation proof as possible".

"The courts will uphold a Government changing the law if it's in the public interest and if the change isn't disproportionate," he added. Earlier Mr O Muilleoir dismissed the DUP's plan as "nothing but a sticking plaster" to save Mrs Foster's political career after what were meant to be "clear the air" talks.

The Finance Minister told the BBC: "I left the meeting without a plan and I'm told that when this plan arrives, despite all the hype in the media, it (won't) be a comprehensive plan to close down RHI, it's going to be an interim solution. This isn't the time for sticking plasters."

He repeated his party's demand that Mrs Foster temporarily step aside to facilitate an investigation.

"Be clear on this - if Arlene Foster doesn't step aside, there will not be an Executive," he warned. However, Mr Wilson dismissed Mr O Muilleoir's apparently uncompromising stance as political posturing.

"Mairtin is point-scoring," he said. "His ego is hurt because the plan was devised by officials from the Department of the Economy and his own department, but he wasn't personally involved.

"He shouldn't have expected to be involved in the nitty-gritty, he can make his decision at the end of the process.

"Mairtin's over-inflated ego may be damaged but, in the cold light of day, I believe he will accept our simple and effective plan to address the RHI issue."

Mr Wilson added: "The Finance Minister must decide if he is more interested in his ego, in being the big man in the big picture, or saving public money.

"I believe that the Executive will look at our plan maturely, and that all the jumping up and down from Sinn Fein will end next week. Accepting a proposal to help the public purse should override any desire to keep Arlene on the spit." Meanwhile, Alliance has asked whether the DUP "are being utterly foolish or merely treating the public as such" after yesterday's DUP-Sinn Fein meeting failed to reveal a substantive RHI plan.

Party leader Naomi Long said the DUP had originally pledged to present its plan a fortnight ago but that Mr O Muilleoir was now saying he would see only interim proposals next week.

"This whole episode has descended from a fiasco into utter farce," she said.

"We have two parties in Government disputing whether any substantive plan exists and in doing so admitting the necessary robust legal checks, which would be required on any such plan, have not been done. The Executive must now publish the plan at whatever stage it is at and set up the independent judge-led inquiry into the scheme."

It is believed that Sinn Fein will publish its preferred terms of reference for an inquiry led by an independent panel this morning.

Belfast Telegraph


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