Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Gerry Adams says Stormont at 'defining point'

Gerry Adams Image copyright Jeff J Mitchell
Image caption Gerry Adams said the DUP had "significantly deepened a crisis that already existed"

Northern Ireland's political institutions have reached "a defining point" over First Minister Arlene Foster's refusal to step aside while the botched RHI scheme is investigated, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams has said.

He added that the public and his party cannot "continue to countenance" how the DUP conduct business at Stormont.

Mr Adams made the remarks in his weekly column for the Andersontown News.

On Wednesday, Mrs Foster restated that she would not stand down.

She also said that some calls for her to do so were "misogynistic".

Speaking on Sky News, Mrs Foster also accused Sinn Féin of being on a "party political mission" to get her to stand aside in order to weaken unionism.

The RHI scheme was set up by Mrs Foster in 2012 when she was minister for enterprise, trade and investment.

It was an attempt by the Northern Ireland Executive to help to increase consumption of heat from renewable sources.

The RHI is approximately £490m over budget.

The DUP has said the assembly may be recalled next week to approve emergency legislation to deal with the overspend.

In his column, Mr Adams repeated previous calls from Sinn Féin for the first minister to step aside to "facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation".

He accused the DUP of weakening "public confidence in the institutions" before the RHI controversy and that their actions since have "significantly deepened a crisis that already existed".

Image copyright tchara
Image caption The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is approximately £490m over budget

"The first minister is bound to know how damaging her stance is to public confidence," he said.

"Yet the DUP chooses to ignore the public outrage over the RHI affair and the potential loss of over half a billion pounds to the executive's budget during the next 20 years."

Mr Adams added that a Sinn Féin motion on the RHI scheme will be debated in Stormont on 16 January and will repeat the party's call for Mrs Foster to step aside.

'Straight forward case'

"But whatever the outcome of that debate, the reality is that the political institutions have reached a defining point.

"Neither the public nor Sinn Féin can continue to countenance the manner in which the DUP conduct business within the executive and the assembly.

"Can this be sorted out? Of course it can. That would require Arlene Foster to do what Peter Robinson did.

"She should step aside to facilitate an independent process which gets to the facts of the RHI scandal effectively and quickly.

"This is a straight forward case. The first minister has been in office for a relatively short time. If she wants to continue in that office she needs to do the right thing."

Mr Adams' column also repeated Sinn Féin's desire for an investigation undertaken by "an independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction and with the power to compel witnesses and documents".

He said the party had taken legal advice on their investigation proposals over the Christmas break.

That advice "pointed to the need to address in clear terms the issue of compelling persons and papers in any investigation to make it effective".

On Wednesday, Mrs Foster said terms for an independent inquiry were worked out in consultation with the attorney general and sent to Sinn Féin who had not responded.

Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the proposals were "insufficient" and that there was no agreement with the DUP on the terms of reference for an investigation.

Last month, Mrs Foster apologised for its lack of cost controls but defended her own role in the scheme.

Businesses were receiving more in subsidies than they were paying for renewable fuel and the scheme became majorly oversubscribed.

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