Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein's O'Dowd sidesteps question on Foster stepping aside for RHI inquiry

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein's John O'Dowd has sidestepped a question on if the party's demand for Arlene Foster to step aside for the RHI inquiry is still in place.

The MLA was speaking on the BBC Stephen Nolan radio show.  He said any deal would be made fully available to he public and if there was no deal, the people would know the reasons why.

He said it was possible a deal may not be made.

Before bringing down the Stormont institutions, Sinn Fein said the DUP leader could not be first minister while the inquiry into the botched green energy scheme was taking place.

The scheme, set up by the then Enterprise Minister Foster, was found to be seriously flawed with the potential for huge fraud due to a lack of tariff caps. Some participants could "burn to earn" from the London- and Stormont-backed £1bn scheme.

Ahead of Martin McGuinness resigning, Sinn Fein made a proposal that Arlene Foster could step aside to allow for an interim report on the handling of the scheme.

When asked if the demand for Arlene Foster to step aside remained, given the party has not repeated the call recently, Mr O'Dowd said it was important the talks were allowed to take their course and should not be carried out in public.

He said: "Let the negations take place.

"While I believe in accountable democracy and publicly accountable democracy, there are times when political leaders need space to engage with each other to resolve significant problems.

"If there is a deal, all the details of that deal will become public and if there is no deal the public will be aware of that."

On Wednesday Michelle O'Neill said progress in the talks was possible.

Mr O'Dowd was asked what had changed for the party's northern leader to make the statement.

"We have always said progress is possible and while talking is going on and as long as there is talking going on, there is hope.

"We are at the stage of negotiations where we do not believe it's right to do it over the airwaves."

On the Party's requirement for an Irish language act to be in place before it returns to the Executive, the former minister added: "The DUP and public know our position - we can speculate but it will bring no benefit.

"We have been quite careful to say to people there are still issues to resolved and they may not be resolved in the current process."

An inquiry has been established to investigate the RHI scandal. Arlene Foster pledged to cut any overspend in the scheme to zero, although it is expected to go over its budget by £3m this year.

The Department of Economy has introduced reduced tariffs in a bid to cut expenditure. It has said it must work to remove the "perverse incentive to generate more heat than required".

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