Northern Ireland

Robin Newton: 'Concerns recognised' over RHI statement

Robin Newton
Image caption It has been a very difficult few weeks for Assembly Speaker Robin Newton

The speaker of the assembly has written to MLAs explaining his decision to allow First Minister Arlene Foster to make a statement without the support of the deputy first minister on Monday.

In an unusual move, Mrs Foster said her words had not been cleared with Martin McGuinness.

Some politicians questioned whether she should have been allowed to deliver such a statement.

The first and deputy first ministers hold joint office at Stormont.

The DUP and Sinn Féin are partners in the coalition government in Northern Ireland.

The speaker, Robin Newton of the DUP, has been the subject of intense scrutiny over his links with the community organisation Charter NI .

Image copyright PA
Image caption MLAs repeatedly asked him if the DUP leader was speaking in a ministerial or personal capacity

On Monday, he faced down potentially mutinous MLAs who claimed he had breached standing orders, the provisions by which the assembly operates, by allowing Mrs Foster to continue with a statement on the 'cash for ash' affair after her executive partner said he did not want her to.

MLAs repeatedly asked him if the DUP leader was speaking in a ministerial or personal capacity.

Later, Mr Newton released a letter he had sent to assembly members acknowledging what he said were genuine frustrations and concerns in relation to the nature of the day's business.

He also said it would have been better had the assembly not been placed in this position by the executive office and he would be raising the matter with ministers.

Last week, Mrs Foster said she would outline a plan on how to recoup some of the money due to be paid out as part of the RHI scheme.

Opposition MLAs questioned why she did not present her plan to the assembly on Monday.

On Tuesday, DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said he was "working very hard" on the plan with both Mrs Foster and Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, from Sinn Féin.

"In fact, the finance minister and I plan to meet later today to take our plan forward," Mr Hamilton told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"It is important that we take our time to develop a plan that is robust, that is resilient and that will, most importantly, work and achieve the aim of significantly reducing the cost of the RHI scheme to the public purse."

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