Northern Ireland

RHI scandal: Gerry Adams says Sinn Féin will act over fiasco

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams addressing party meeting Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Gerry Adams spoke at a Sinn Féin meeting in west Belfast on Saturday and at an event in Limerick on Sunday

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness could resign if Arlene Foster does not stand aside during an investigation into a botched green energy scheme, Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams has signalled.

The party was prepared to take action if the first minister did not do what "society desires", he said.

Speaking in Limerick on Sunday, Mr Adams said the DUP leader's refusal to step aside was "unacceptable".

He suggested there was a "clear conflict of interest" if she remained.

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has warned an election would be inevitable if Mrs Foster did not stand down.

The first minister is under growing pressure over the Renewable Heat Initiative.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme was launched in 2012 to help businesses ditch fossil fuels for renewables such as wood.

Image caption Mr Adams reiterated calls for Mrs Foster to step aside at a commemoration on Sunday

Mrs Foster was the then enterprise minister in charge of the scheme, which was set up to help cut carbon emissions, but its flaws could cost taxpayers £490m.

The subsidies offered were greater than the cost of the fuels, meaning users could legitimately earn more cash the more fuel they burned.

'State of affairs'

Speaking at a meeting of party activists in Belfast on Saturday, Sinn Féin leader Mr Adams said Mrs Foster was not "a prime minister".

"She is a co-equal partner in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister," he said. "She can continue in that office but only for as long as Sinn Féin allows it."

On Sunday, he reiterated his calls for her to step aside at an event in Limerick, saying: "Her department was warned a year before the scheme was set up by energy companies and by the Ulster Farmers Union that there was a need for cost controls and caps on payments.

"These warnings were ignored, as were a series of warnings from whistle blowers and others about the potential for abuse, corruption and fraud."

Sinn Féin has put forward proposals for dealing with the crisis engulfing Stormont, and Mrs Foster has said they provided "a basis for taking an investigation forward".

But the first minister has rejected Sinn Féin's further calls for her to temporarily step aside.

Mr Adams told the meeting: "The DUP leader has thus far refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report by an independent investigation into the RHI scandal.

"If the first minister does not take the actions that society desires and deserves and which a sustainable process of change requires, then Sinn Féin will bring this ongoing and totally unacceptable state of affairs to an end."

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir warned that if Mrs Foster did not step aside temporarily, an election would be inevitable.

"It's the greatest conflict of interest I've seen in my political life that the architect of the RHI scheme would remain in office while the investigation gets under way," he said.

Mr Adams said the "future of the political institutions are at a defining point", as he paid tribute to Mr McGuinness who was not at the meeting.

"Under Martin's tolerant and tireless leadership the institutions have continued to operate and progress has been made, for example on the difficult issue of the transfer of policing and justice powers," he said.

Image copyright Press Eye
Image caption Gerry Adams has called the DUP Communities Minister Paul Givan an 'ignoramus' over his decision to cut Irish language funding

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Adams spoke about the decision to cut Irish language bursary funds, describing Communities Minister Paul Givan as an "ignoramus".

"The DUP has also shown a serious disrespect for the Irish language and to those citizens who wish to live their lives through Gaeilge (Irish language).

"The decision on the eve of Christmas to cut funding for the Líofa programme was a very deliberate snub to the Irish language. It was an ignorant decision taken by an ignoramus.

"Of course we will forgive him for this. When he restores the funding and treats our teanga (language) with the respect it deserves."

More on this story