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Justice Minister Claire Sugden feels let down by Foster and McGuinness but she's 'staying in the job and so should First Minister'

Independent says Arlene should not step aside for RHI investigation

Justice Minister Claire Sugden has said she has been let down by the First and deputy First Ministers' commitments to her and that Arlene Foster should not stand aside for an investigation into the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal.

With growing pressure for the independent MLA to act on the scandal, Ms Sugden told the BBC it was not an issue for her department rather it was a "cost cutting issue".

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

It's the first time the unionist politician has spoken on the matter since she addressed the Assembly special sitting which saw the First Minister survive a vote of no confidence. Ms Sugden said that was because she was focused on her job and not on "providing a running commentary on the matter".

She told the BBC: "Those that are trying to compel me to act are either being provocative or are misinformed.

"If there are assertions of criminality they will be dealt with by the PSNI first and foremost.

"I have sought advice on calling for a public inquiry. If that is the only way to ensure public confidence then of course that is right. But I not sure it is the only mechanism. A public inquiry is lengthly and costly and could allow people off the hook."

She said it was "not a justice department issue" and she would have to "consult with the executive committee" first.

"So people saying I have unilateral power on initiating a public inquiry are misinformed.

"We have to be careful of what we ask for."

The minister, however, issued an assurance that she was "not sitting on her hands" over the scandal but that she would find it "difficult" to support a motion calling for the First Minister to step aside saying she was not sure what that would achieve.

"My position is we need to instigate some sort of investigation," she continued.

"For Arlene to step aside, it is only a gesture and a gesture that only she could provide.

"Anyone forcing her to step aside is punishing her for something that has not been substantiated."

She added: "I do support a full independent investigation of sorts, [calling her to step aside ahead of that investigation] quite frankly surprises me.

"Sinn Fein have long held values that we don't punish someone without investigation, without knowing the facts.

"By telling her to step aside that is what they are doing.

"I support motion asking for an independent investigation.

"I would be in two minds supporting a motion that would call for someone to step aside without proper fair investigation.

"Until we can do that I don't think that is fair."

When asked if the DUP and Sinn Fein had honoured commitments to her, the justice minister said she had been let down but denied "being sold a pup" over her decision to take the job.

"Martin and Arlene have both let me down," she continued.

"I have not been sold a pup. I have asked them to let me do my job and over the past few weeks it has been difficult for me to do my job.

"I still feel the opportunity both for my own constituency and for those across Northern Ireland is still there.

"My resigning will not ultimately collapse the Executive but it will lead to difficulty for the First and deputy First Minister and they will have to find an alternative minister.

"I am not sure they would be able to do that, so I do see myself as playing a significant role.

"What does resigning achieve? Other than sending us down the road to another election which will return the two main parties, strengthen their positions and ultimately sweep RHI under the carpet.

"I don't want an election and I don't think any else does.

"With this issue there is a lot of political posturing going on. Regrettably the two main parties are reverting to party politics and feathering their own nests in terms of keeping their constituents right.

"I am very candid in my conversations with the First and deputy First Ministers and I have made my feelings clear.

"I am as angry as any one else, particularly as I took on this role to do a job and I now feel compromised in doing that job.

"But I will continue to do that job as I still see the opportunity for the people that I represent and across Northern Ireland as a whole."

She concluded: "Arlene and Martin may have reneged on their responsibilities to do their jobs, but I will not be doing that because I have integrity.

"I would struggle in election as would every other party bar the main two but I would struggle in an election in five years' time. So what does it achieve?

"If we don't have election we go to direct rule and have UK ministers make decision on our behalf? And we can't go back to that.

"The First Minister and deputy First Minister don't see me as a soft touch and if they do they are seriously underestimating me in that respect."

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