Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein unveils plan for RHI independent inquiry - no agreement with DUP

Martin McGuinnnes at centre of talks to broker deal, despite health issues says Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein has announced its plan for the investigation into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal, although it has not been agreed with their partners in government, the DUP as yet.

Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O'Neill, chief whip Caral Ni Chuilin and Gerry Kelly presented the plan to the media on Friday morning. They said the inquiry should be fronted by a judicial figure and witnesses should be compelled to attend.

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There can be no ministerial influence in the investigation, they said.

And a full-blown public inquiry was not the route to go down as any investigation had to be "time-bound" and "cost effective," they said.

Martin McGuinness, they added, was working at the heart of the issue to break the deadlock, despite his recent health issues.

Some of the sessions of the inquiry, the politicians said, could be held in public but Arlene Foster would have to step aside as First Minister for four weeks until a preliminary report was published with the full report coming in three months.

Under the proposals, the attorney general would appoint a judge who would then go on to appoint an expert panel.

"The public must be satisfied any investigation would be transparent and robust," Michelle O'Neill added.

She stressed that it was vital witnesses were made to attend hearings.

Emergency legislation would be required to give the investigation powers to compel witnesses and papers but Sinn Fein said this could be done under accelerated passage.

"Compellability must be at the heart of the investigation," said Ms O'Neill.

"Sinn Fein has been clear that those responsible for the RHI debacle should be held to account, that there can be no cover up. We are determined to get to the truth about this scandal .

"In order to achieve that we believe that an independent investigation, which is time-bound, robust, led by a judicial figure and a panel of independent experts, with powers to compel witnesses and evidence is the best way forward.

"The First Minister needs to step aside to allow that investigation to take place.

"We do not believe the 2005 Inquiries Act would suffice as it does not guarantee an independent investigation and is open to ministerial interference.

"There is a need to get to the bottom of this scandal in order to restore public confidence in the institutions and we believe this is the way to do it."

The press conference was all over very quickly before the Sinn Fein members were whisked away.

The DUP has been asked for its response to the proposal.

It comes after Finance Minister Mairtin O'Muilleoir said there could be no Executive as long as Arlene Foster remained in place for any investigation into the scandal on Thursday following a meeting with DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton.

He described the DUP proposal as nothing more than a "sticking plaster".

Sammy Wilson however, dismissed it as grandstanding saying the two main parties were close to a deal.

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

Arlene Foster set up the Renewable Heating Incentive scheme in 2012 during her time as enterprise minister.

It was aimed at getting businesses to take up renewable heating systems in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

However, no tariff limits were imposed and when the price of the fuel dropped it meant businesses were profiting from its use.

Timeline: How Renewable Heat Incentive unfolded 

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