Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Sinn Féin warn DUP of 'grave consequences' over Foster statement

Martin McGuinness and Arlene Foster Image copyright PA
Image caption Martin McGuinness said he had informed the DUP that he was not happy with the planned statement Arlene Foster would make to the Assembly on Monday

Sinn Féin are warning of grave consequences if the DUP bring forward a statement during a debate on Monday about the Renewable Heat Initiative Scheme without their support.

Martin McGuinness said the statement which Arlene Foster plans to make to the Assembly does not have his authority or approval as deputy first minister.

Sinn Féin will put forward a motion asking for the first minster to stand aside to facilitate an independent investigation into the RHI scandal.

The Assembly will debate a motion to exclude Mrs Foster as first minister on Monday.

On Sunday, the DUP said it supported the need for an independent and speedy investigation, free from partisan political interference, to establish the facts around the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

It said the party had been working with officials to reach agreement on the details of such an inquiry.

A short time later, Sinn Féin released a statement saying they would be bringing a proposal to the Assembly on Monday for First Minister Arlene Foster to stand aside until an independent investigation produces a preliminary report.

Martin McGuinness said he had made the DUP aware that the statement Mrs Foster planned to make did not have his support or authority.

Image caption Jonathan Bell made a number of allegations during his interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan

He added that there was no credibility in an inquiry being established solely by the DUP and warned that if the DUP does take a unilateral approach, there would be grave consequences.

The political fall-out over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme began after former DUP minister Jonathan Bell gave an interview on Thursday evening to Stephen Nolan.

During his interview he accused DUP advisers of delaying his plans to close down the controversial scheme.

Suspended

However, the party has denied this and leader Arlene Foster has criticised Mr Bell over his handling of the matter.

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton released documents on Sunday which he claimed questioned Mr Bell's version of events surrounding the RHI scheme.

Image caption Mr Hamilton said the allegations made by Mr Bell were serious and warranted investigation

Mr Bell claimed in his interview with Stephen Nolan that a whistle-blower civil servant told him references to Mrs Foster were removed from a document as the ending of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was being considered.

Mr Hamilton said the allegations made by Mr Bell were serious and warranted investigation.

"As detailed, this documentation involves the drafting and redrafting of a DETI submission regarding RHI closure in 2016. There was no 'cleansing' of records, as both drafts are recorded and retained," Mr Hamilton said.

"The re-drafting was undertaken by Mr Bell's special adviser. It deleted a specific reference to OFMDFM being involved in discussions in early 2016 on the closure of RHI.

"This was not done on behalf of or to the benefit of first minister Foster.

"As the documentation shows, this OFMDFM involvement helped secure the closure of RHI in February 2016 - earlier than the date originally signed off on by minister Bell."

On Sunday, it emerged that Mr Bell had been suspended from the DUP for allegedly speaking to the press without permission.

The party's officers discussed what action to take against the former enterprise minister this weekend.

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said Mr Bell had been suspended without prejudice.

"If you look at the DUP rules, Jonathan did not seek permission for the interview that he did," he said.

"He did not tell the party in advance what he was doing and that's not the way that most political parties operate."

Mr Donaldson said Mrs Foster would not be "running away from her responsibilities".

"She's got nothing to hide, she's made absolutely clear she will make full disclosure of everything - all documents, papers, records of meetings," he said.

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