McGuinness to call for Foster to step aside

Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness.  (Photos: Pacemaker Press)
Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness. (Photos: Pacemaker Press)

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called on all parties to support a Sinn Féin amendment calling for Arlene Foster to step aside amid the storm around the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The amendment will be tabled in the Assembly today as MLAs are recalled to address the serious fall out over the RHI scheme and its mammoth cost implications for the north.

Sinn Fein has now published the full text of the amendment, which is expected to be tabled after an SDLP-led motion of no confidence in First Minister Arlene Foster, calling on her to stand aside for six months pending a full investigation into what went wrong with the RHI scheme.

Martin McGuinness is expected to call for the Assembly to recognise “the mounting public concern, relating to the RHI scheme and the serious allegations of incompetence, corruption and abuse”.

He will also ask MLAs to call on “the First Minister to stand aside in order to facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation and until a preliminary report is presented”.

Arlene Foster has said she will not stand down from her position at the helm of the Assembly and has strongly denied allegations made by the now suspended former DUP Minister Jonathan Bell.

Mr McGuinness said this investigation would be undertaken by an independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction and be appointed by the Attorney General.

“This investigation must establish how the RHI was developed in strategic policy and legislative terms, including its primary purpose and objectives; how the scheme’s operational roll-out was agreed, administered and implemented in order to match these objectives; and thereafter where overall accountability and compliance for the RHI scheme rested in both policy and financial accountability terms – and were these achieved in the view of the Independent Investigator.

“Investigate the motives and actions of Ministers, Special Advisors, Civil Servants, and any others involved in either the strategic policy and operational delivery making processes of the RHI scheme and whether this was done so ethically, within the law, in compliance with the standards established in the Ministerial Code of conduct and principles of public life, and conditions of employment for Special Advisors.

“Establish whether any individual (including Ministers, Civil servants, special advisors, others), acted knowingly where a conflict of interest existed, and/or intentionally and dishonestly to make a gain from the administration of the RHI scheme, or to aid others in doing so.

“Examine and report on the manner in which the disclosure of whistle-blowers or any individuals who alleged possible wrongdoing about the RHI scheme were tested and responded to by the relevant authorities.

“Investigate all applications, including those which successfully benefited from the RHI scheme, and determine in each case whether the Department has a legal basis to pursue and recover any payment made; withhold partial payment yet to be made; establish cases for referral to the law enforcement agencies to consider prosecution where there is adequate corroborative evidence.”

Mr McGuinness called for the outcome of such an investigation to be made public and will not require agreement of the First and Deputy First Ministers or the Attorney General.

“A preliminary report will be published within four weeks of its establishment,” he said. “The full report and its outcomes will be made public within three months from that date.”