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Arlene Foster survives no confidence vote - but Sinn Féin plan another for New Year

Arlene Foster has repeatedly refused to resign – saying that the scheme was not her responsibility.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 8pm

NORTHERN IRELAND FIRST Minister Arlene Foster survived a vote of no confidence this evening, despite most members voting that she should step aside.

The motion was defeated on a cross-community vote: so although 39 of the 75 members voted to support the motion, because of the DUP’s influence in the chamber, the motion did not pass.

Foster is coming under a lot of heat because of an energy scandal in Northern Ireland. Dubbed ’cash for ash’, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) offered subsidies to businesses for switching to greener fuel.

But there was a major problem in the scheme – basically it paid businesses a flat rate for the energy they used, which was often more than they were actually using in fuel.

The result of this was that the more fuel companies burned, the more they stood to make off the government.

Walk out

16/11/2016.  Martin McGuinness At Committees Source: Leah Farrell

Earlier today, members of Sinn Féin walked out of the Stormont Assembly once Foster announced that she did not have the approval of Martin McGuinness – who shares the Northern Ireland leadership role with Foster.

In the aftermath of the vote, McGuinness said that the mistakes of the scheme needed to be addressed, and that Sinn Féin will bring forward a motion in early January “which deals comprehensively with the substantive issues surrounding this debacle.”

The motion will call for three things:

  • A robust time-framed, transparent and independent investigation
  • Proposals from the Finance Minister and the Economy Minister to reduce the losses to the public purse from the scheme
  • The First Minister should stand aside during this process.

McGuinness and Foster’s shared leadership was viewed skeptically when it was first formed, but has surprised many by surviving this long. The RHI energy scandal now threatens to bring the whole government down if one or both sides do not concede.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, however, McGuinness was cautious to say that they were still working towards a solution with Foster, has come through much more difficult issues than this.

Earlier today

The Stormont Assembly held a meeting in a special sitting this morning to discuss a failed renewable energy scheme which is thought to have cost taxpayers around £400 million (€476 million).

Giving a statement after a walkout by all other parties, First Minister Arlene Foster resisted the calls to step down or aside while the matter was being investigated.

Foster denies any involvement keeping the flaws of the scheme hidden, and has insisted she had actually reported the flaws to the relevant people once she was made aware.

She told the half-empty Stormont chamber that she would happily go before the North’s Public Accounts Committee.

“I will go before the PAC because I have nothing to hide,” she said “I have done nothing wrong.”

Jonathan Bell

Renewable Heat Initiative allegations Jonathan Bell. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

In a BBC NI interview last Thursday, former NI minister Jonathan Bell claimed that he was met with a hostile reaction when he informed First Minister Arlene Foster that the government energy scheme was being abused.

Bell told the BBC on Thursday that Foster refused to shut down the RHI scheme when she was informed of the flaws.

He has since been “suspended without prejudice” from the party.

Sinn Féin are tabling an amendment which calls on foster to “stand aside in order to facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation”.

The Sinn Féin amendment is less powerful than the SDLP motion, but both parties may agree on it in order to vote unanimously.

Speaking on RTE’s Morning Ireland, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Foster should “step aside” while a public enquiry into the matter takes place.

“She should step aside and allow for us to have a public inquiry into these matters,” he said.

He also said that the investigation was needed to restore public confidence in the Northern Ireland Assembly and its institutions.

It’s also clear that the public have lost whatever confidence they had in her and in our institutions and I think it’s time for us as politicians to step up.

The DUP supports an independent investigation into the RHI scheme. Also speaking on Morning Ireland. the DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson said that no fault has been proven on Foster’s behalf.

“There’s been no case brought against Arlene Foster and I do believe in a democracy that people are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

“What the SDLP are doing today is not asking Arlene Foster to step aside and I have to say, Colum Eastwood’s comments there, some of them very close to libelous and untrue.”

- With reporting by Rónán Duffy, Paul Hosford and Gráinne Ní Aodha

Read: The DUP suspends former minister as the ‘ash for cash’ scandal burns on

Read: ‘Arlene Foster told me to keep the scheme open’: Conflicting reports of NI energy scandal

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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