Sinn Féin to table amendment calling for Foster to step aside for 4 weeks & expand scope of judicial inquiry

A statement by Sinn Féin this evening together with a proposed amendment shine some light on the approach that the second largest party in the Assembly will take on Monday morning’s session.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness “calls on the First Minister to stand aside until this independent investigation brings forward a preliminary report“. [emphasis added]

In addition be cautioned that “the statement which Arlene Foster plans to make to the Assembly tomorrow does not have my authority or approval as deputy First Minister”.

We have told the DUP this. If she speaks this will be in a personal capacity and not in her role as First Minister. There is no credibility in an inquiry established solely by the DUP or in the selective release of some documents by DUP departments.

McGuinness added:

“If the DUP does take a unilateral approach, disregarding the authority and joint nature of the Executive Office on an issue which is cross-cutting, with massive budgetary implications and which is undermining public confidence in the political institutions this will have grave consequences.

The wording of the amendment – which Conor Murphy suggested on Sunday Politics might be difficult to produce – has also been released. Rather than a tight focus on the First Minister and her role in the RHI scheme, it expands out to look at the role of Ministers, Special Advisors, civil servants, and only calls on Arlene Foster to step aside as First Minister for four weeks while the preliminary report is produced.

That this Assembly recognises the mounting public concern, relating to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme and the serious allegations of incompetence, corruption and abuse.

Calls on the First Minister to stand aside in order to facilitate an independent, time-framed, robust and transparent investigation and until a preliminary report is presented.

This investigation would be undertaken by an independent judicial figure from outside this jurisdiction and be appointed by the Attorney General.

This investigation must establish how the RHI was developed in strategic policy and legislative terms, including its primary purpose and objectives; how the scheme’s operational roll-out was agreed, administered and implemented in order to match these objectives; and thereafter where overall accountability and compliance for the RHI scheme rested in both policy and financial accountability terms – and were these achieved in the view of the Independent Investigator.

Investigate the motives and actions of Ministers, Special Advisors, Civil Servants, and any others involved in either the strategic policy and operational delivery making processes of the RHI scheme and whether this was done so ethically, within the law, in compliance with the standards established in the Ministerial Code of conduct and principles of public life, and conditions of employment for Special Advisors.

Establish whether any individual (including Ministers, Civil servants, special advisors, others), acted knowingly where a conflict of interest existed, and/or intentionally and dishonestly to make a gain from the administration of the RHI scheme, or to aid others in doing so.

Examine and report on the manner in which the disclosure of whistle-blowers or any individuals who alleged possible wrongdoing about the RHI scheme were tested and responded to by the relevant authorities.

Investigate all applications, including those which successfully benefited from the RHI scheme, and determine in each case whether the Department has a legal basis to pursue and recover any payment made; withhold partial payment yet to be made; establish cases for referral to the law enforcement agencies to consider prosecution where there is adequate corroborative evidence.

On its completion the outcome of the investigation will be made public and will not require agreement of the First and Deputy First Ministers or the Attorney General. A preliminary report will be published within 4 weeks of its establishment. The full report and its outcomes will be made public within 3 months from that date.

Do the DUP have confidence in their position and will they swallow a four week hiatus in light of this Sinn Féin amendment? Or will they rely on their size and ability to block the cross-community vote and hope that the threatened grave consequences do not come to pass?

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