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Summary

  1. Arlene Foster survives no-confidence vote in Northern Ireland Assembly
  2. Foster gives statement on scandal-hit Renewable Heat Incentive scheme
  3. Opponents call on first minister to stand down to allow inquiry into botched initiative
  4. Mass walk-out by all parties except DUP ahead of Foster's address
  5. DUP leader resists opponents "quest" to build her "political gallows"

Live Reporting

By Robin Sheeran and Iain McDowell

All times stated are UK

Happy Christmas from Stormont Live!

That should be it from the Northern Ireland Assembly up here on Stormont hill in 2016... barring another emergency recall, which is highly unlikely, thankfully!

A Christmas tree in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings
BBC

Join us again in 2017 for what should be an intriguing start to the new political year.

So, we'll bid you a goodnight from Parliament Buildings and wish you all a happy Christmas!

Follow the fallout across the BBC

So, First Minister Arlene Foster has resisted what she calls her opponents' "fevered quest" to build her "political gallows" and is not standing down over the RHI scandal.

That's all from us today on Stormont Live, but you can catch the reaction to and analysis of today's events across the BBC.

A microphone in the Great Hall at Stormont's Parliament Buildings
BBC

Evening Extra is on air on BBC Radio Ulster now, and BBC Newsline will begin on BBC One Northern Ireland at 18:30.

As well as that, Mark Carruthers will bring you a special Stormont Today on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 23:00.

And if you prefer to get your political round-up on the wireless, Jayne McCormack will sum it all up on Today At The Assembly on BBC Radio Ulster at 22:02.

RHI scandal at Stormont in 60 seconds

BBC News Northern Ireland

Somehow, one of our colleagues has managed to sum up that remarkable day in just 60 seconds.

RHI at Stormont - in 60 seconds

Here's the gist of the happenings from today's heated assembly chamber.

Three DUP MLAs didn't vote on motion

Mark Devenport

BBC News NI Political Editor

SF motion 'will have three key elements'

Sinn Féin's motion in January on addressing the RHI scandal will include three key elements, Martin McGuinness says.

"First there needs to be a robust time-framed, transparent and independent investigation," he says.

Martin McGuinness
BBC

"Secondly, we need proposals from the finance minister and the economy minister to reduce the losses to the public purse from this disastrous scheme.

"And thirdly, we believe while this is going on that the first minister should stand aside during this process."

Assembly adjourned after extraordinary day

Well, after the failure of the exclusion vote, Speaker Robin Newton adjourns today's sitting of the recalled assembly, and MLAs can return to their Christmas break.

Parliament Buildings at Stormont
BBC

That brings an extraordinary day at Stormont to an end, and there'll be no shortage of reaction to come.

SF to 'put forward Foster motion in January'

Outside the chamber, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is calling on the other parties in the assembly to support a Sinn Féin motion in January calling on Arlene Foster to step aside.

Martin McGuinness
BBC

"Today we have witnessed a shambles in the assembly - our institutions should not have to endure another day like this," he says.

Motion falls on cross-community basis

The motion to exclude First Minister Arlene Foster is defeated on a cross-community vote.

Of the 75 members who voted, 39 approved the motion.

Arlene Foster
BBC

Breaking that down, 15 unionists and 12 nationalists backed it, as well as 12 other members.

But crucially, it needed cross-community support to pass and the DUP used its bulk in the chamber to ensure the call for Mrs Foster to step aside would not pass.

Interesting to note that outspoken DUP MLA Jonathan Bell didn't take part in the vote, and Justice Minister Claire Sugden, an independent MLA, voted against the motion with the DUP.

MLAs vote on exclusion motion

Three hours of hot and fiery debate (no pun intended, honestly) come to a close, and MLAs will now vote on the motion to exclude Arlene Foster from her office as first minister.

MLAs in the assembly chamber
BBC

"The house will divide - ayes to my right, noes to my left," Speaker Robin Newton declares.

'SF abstentionism extends to assembly'

SDLP tweets...

Foster backed over cost reduction commitment

DUP MLA tweets...

'We're a laughing stock over RHI affair'

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt wraps up the debate on the exclusion motion by saying that he has just returned from England, where "we are collectively a laughing stock".

The Strangford MLA says the first minister had claimed members would hear her plans for tackling the RHI crisis in her statement today.

Mike Nesbitt
BBC

"I read her speech and there is no plan," he says.

"Either her fingers were all over these policies or she was asleep at the wheel. Either way she has to stand aside."

'There will be no scalp of first minister'

The RHI scandal is an "extremely serious turn of events" for Northern Ireland's political institutions, DUP MLA Christopher Stalford says.

But he says the assembly is the "proper forum for holding ministers to account".

Christopher Stalford
BBC

He describes the motion and the furore surround it as nothing more than an effort to "bring down the first minister".

"It was malice dressed up as fairness," the South Belfast MLA says, but he adds that there will be no "scalp".

'I'd kick house of cards down myself'

Independent MLA Claire Sugden, Northern Ireland's justice minister, says the events of the past week have been "a farce".

Clare Sugden
BBC

"I would kick the house of cards down myself if Northern Ireland didn't have so much to lose," Ms Sugden says.

She will not be supporting the motion as she believes it is "premature", but she adds that she does support "a fair, independent investigation".

'No public inquiry into RHI failures'

There "will not be a public inquiry" into the RHI scheme's failure, the DUP's Edwin Poots tells the assembly.

Instead, he says, there will be "an open and transparent inquiry", and a public inquiry is "not on the table" due to its potentially large cost.

Edwin Poots
bb

"What we have today is the actions of a lynch mob," the Lagan Valley MLA proclaims.

Things should be done "the British way" - that is, he says, that "people are innocent until found guilty".

'DUP donors benefited from RHI scheme'

Mr Allister goes on to hint at deeper motivations on the part of some DUP members.

Jim Allister
BBC

"There are DUP members on these benches who could tell a lot about this scheme, who could tell about their party donors who have benefitted," he says.

He says there are also DUP members "whose friends and family benefitted from the scheme as well as the friends and family of [special advisers]".

'Minister was asleep at the wheel'

TUV leader Jim Allister lays the blame for the RHI failure squarely at the feet of the first minister.

Jim Allister
BBC

"Arlene Foster and Arlene Foster alone signed this scheme into existence," he says.

The North Antrim MLA rejects one of the defences posed by the DUP, saying that it was "not administrative oversight - minister asleep at the wheel".

'Public being pushed towards drain-the-swamp Trumpism'

Today's events in the chamber and a lack of action from Arlene Foster have "no doubt diminished the reputation of these institutions", Ulster Unionist Philip Smith says.

The 251,000 people who watched Stephen Nolan's BBC interviews with Jonathan Bell and Arlene Foster on the RHI scandal last Thursday night are a "testament to the theatre of good journalism", he adds.

Philip Smith
bbc

The first minister's decision to "brazen it out is not a sign of strength but weakness", he says.

The Strangford MLA says the DUP may well win a "pyrrhic victory" today, but that will only "push the public toward the Trumpism of wanting to drain the swamp".

'Pantomime politics at its best'

Members of the public "quite rightly are angry", Alastair Ross of the DUP says.

Alastair Ross
BBC

It is "quite remarkable", he says, to hear from former members of the Enterprise Committee and assembly members who voted for the scheme and who "now look back, being wise after the event, claiming that they knew it was wrong".

He describes the walkout by the other parties this morning as "pantomime politics at its very best".

'People should register disgust at ballot box'

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll says this is not just a scandal, but a "crime against the people of this region".

Gerry Carroll
BBC

An immediate assembly election is the only "move that makes sense", he says, and voters in Northern Ireland should have their chance to "register their disgust at the ballot box".

He says people are "right to have no confidence" in politicians, and the executive "can't be trusted" to set up an inquiry into the scheme's failure.

'DUP employing anything-but-Arlene tactic'

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone, a former chair of the Enterprise Committee, described the debate as an "interesting" one.

Patsy McGlone
BBC

He says the DUP has adopted an "anything-but-Arlene tactic".

They have been "trying to dump on everyone, that's on officials, consultants, media, every assembly member and committee", he adds.

'Media playing scandal out like soap opera'

What a day to make your maiden speech in the assembly!

Seven months on from her election, Joanne Bunting of the DUP rises to speak.

Joanne Bunting
BBC

The East Belfast MLA says the problems created by the RHI scheme must be "rectified as quickly as possible", but "very regrettably, that has not been the focus".  

She accuses the media of playing the scandal out "like a soap opera".

"This sensationalist, tantalising approach," she says, "does nothing to foster an environment of conveying the facts with the purpose of finding a resolution."

'This has been a circus today'

DUP MLA Paul Frew defends his party leader, saying she is "a minister who Northern Ireland needs to get us through some of the darkest weeks in devolution".

He adds: "I agree with Sinn Féin, this has been a circus today."

Paul Frew
BBC

Mr Frew says Arlene Foster is best placed to address the problems raised in the RHI scheme.

"You are elected to this place to serve the people - do not walk out of this place like some set of clowns," he tells the members.

Analysis: Details on savings as absent as opposition MLAs

Enda McClafferty

BBC News NI Political Correspondent

We were promised a plan to reduce the £400m heating bill, but, much like the Sinn Féin and opposition MLAs, that detail was absent.

What we got was the promise that Economy Minister Simon Hamilton would make a statement in the new year.

Assembly
BBC

But more than that, the first minister admitted that it won’t be easy to make the savings, as they wanted to be "fair to those who responded to the incentive as it was intended to operate".

Making sure Stormont continues to operate may well be just as tough as reducing the heating bill. 

'Only conclusion is Foster is incompetent minister'

In her roles as an executive minister Arlene Foster has "presided over a catalogue of failures", according to Green Party leader Steven Agnew.

Steven Agnew
BBC

He says that had the first minister "accepted responsibility from the start" for the botching of the RHI scheme, then we "wouldn't have seen the heat that this debate has caused".

The North Down MLA tells the chamber that given Mrs Foster's "track record of such failure time and time again", he can "only conclude that she is an incompetent minister".

'Special advisers were out of control'

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs says "the integrity of this institution is at stake", adding that the executive is "in a state of turmoil".

Roy Beggs
BBC

The East Antrim MLA reminds members that originally "today was pencilled-in for the draft budget".

He attacks the role of departmental special advisers in the RHI episode, saying Arlene Foster was responsible for them and they were "out of control".

No mention yet of scheme cost clawbacks

BBC Spotlight reporter tweets...

'Foster tone deaf to implications of staying in post'

Stormont's institutions are being "pushed to their limits" by the RHI scandal, Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry says.

Stephen Farry
BBC

He points to neighbouring jurisdictions, saying that if a similar situation had arisen "it would lead to the main players stepping aside".

He says Arlene Foster was "tone deaf" to the political implications of her decision not to stand down, the North Down MLA tells members.

'Opposition portrayal of Foster not one I know'

"I'm sad and appalled by this motion," says William Humphrey of the DUP.

William Humphrey
BBC

"This portrayal of my colleague, my leader and our first minister is not what I know and not what the people on these benches know," the North Belfast MLA says.

Listen back to the drama from Stormont

Talkback

BBC News NI

'Cronyism and corruption written all over this'

The RHI fiasco has "turned public dissatisfaction into anger", Claire Hanna of the SDLP claims.

"Cronyism and corruption are written all over this in the minds of the public," the South Belfast MLA adds.

Clare Hanna
BBC

The £400m projected cost to the taxpayer is "horrifying", she tells members.

"The fact that apparently because it was London money it was OK to squander is really breathtaking and it's arrogant," Ms Hanna says.

"The fact is that somebody earned that money and paid it in, and all taxpayers are entitled to know that their money is being fairly spent."

'Litany of erroneous charges during debate'

Simon Hamilton of the DUP says the debate has consisted of "a litany of erroneous charges, charges that are without evidence".

He rejects calls for the first minister to take full and sole responsibility for the failure of the RHI scheme.

Simon Hamilton
BBC

The Stangford MLA points to the role of experts from inside and outside Deti, the department that set the scheme up, and reminds members that "the house voted for the regulations that set up the scheme".

The economy minister also rejects allegations that Arlene Foster intervened to stop the closure of the scheme "for some nefarious reasons", and insists that the first minister will not be standing aside.

Other parties 'wanted RHI to stay open'

Jayne McCormack

BBC News NI

'Corruption at heart of this scandal'

"Corruption" is at the heart of the RHI scandal, according to Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd, who wants to know more about when the critical cost flaw in the scheme was identified.

"The general public is highly suspicious that someone, or a group of individuals, benefited to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money," he says.

John O'Dowd
BBC

"Were there members or supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party or other political parties in this chamber who were taken aside and shown the details of this scheme?"

He adds an independent judicial figure from outside Northern Ireland is the only way to get to the bottom of the RHI scandal.

"That's how you do business in relation to placing accusations in front of people," he says.

'NI's international business reputation is damaged'

Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer is next up to have her say, and starts off by saying the first minister has dealt a "devastating blow" to Northern Ireland's international business reputation.

"Why would businesses look to come here," she asks, "when the first minister has made such a catastrophic policy decision?"

Jenny Palmer
BBC

She is "not a safe pair of hands" to be in charge of the public purse, Mrs Palmer says.

And she asks: "What must the United Kingdom Treasury think of us and our apparent inability to manage public funds?"

'Opposition parties are gowling and shouting'

The DUP's Lord Morrow has an interesting metaphor to describe the attitude of those bringing the motion.

Lord Morrow
BBC

"When you throw a stone into a pack of dogs you always know which one you've hit - it's the one that gowls the loudest," he explains.

"What we had right around this chamber today is a lot of people gowling and shouting," the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA observes.

More heat than light in 'cash-for-ash' row

Irish Times Northern Ireland editor tweets...

'Assembly is taking an absolute kicking'

"The institutions have taken an absolute kicking here," according to Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill.

She says she is "embarrassed" by the standard of the debates, telling MLAs that they are "losing the run of yourselves" during the proceedings today that have been "about antics" and "about stunts".

Michelle O'Neill
BBC

"I am not interested in the internal wrangling of the DUP," she says, but instead delivering for the electorate.

Therefore, she says, the first minister must "step down to allow an investigation that would help to restore public confidence, and the Northern Ireland population needs to be assured that their money is not being wasted".

'This is all about undermining Arlene Foster'

Paul Givan of the DUP says the public "rightly want people to be held to account" for the failings of the scheme.

He is interrupted by the the UUP's Andy Allen, who asks how many units of social housing could be built with the money used up in "the £400m black hole".

Paul Givan
BBC

Mr Givan says it is clear that the motion is to be used in respect of a whole range of other issues, and that "it's about undermining Arlene Foster".

The Lagan Valley MLA, who is Northern Ireland's communities minister and oversees broadcasting in the region, goes on to attack the BBC's coverage of the RHI story, saying it is  "presenting allegations as facts".