Now that I have gone through the narrative of the RHI scheme, I want to come to the heart of the matter of a motion of no confidence. I absolutely refute the charge that I lied about cancelling it or any other aspect of it . My party supports me. But now other parties are challenging my veracity including, in terms, our Sinn Fein partners in government.
We agree that a judicial inquiry is needed to clear the air. But the Sinn Fein amendment challenges the entire functioning of the Executive, not only today but during the period of multiparty government. Sadly it fails to acknowledge the new era of collaboration between us over the programme for government and threatens its very existence. Many of the topics covered in the amendment could equally apply to their conduct in government and are too widely drawn to answer a motion of confidence in me.
Let’s cut to the chase. I will not stand aside at this stage as First Minister. This is about my integrity not my political judgement. I cannot tolerate the charge of lying for a moment. But I recognise that if my party blocks the main motion or the main amendment by a petition of concern, it could precipitate the unnamed grave consequences which Sinn Fein are so irresponsibly and disproportionately threatening.
Therefore I now move that the Executive parties do jointly set up a judicial inquiry. If after quite a short time the inquiry finds that I have not told the truth, I will submit to another vote of confidence in this House which lays my position as First Minister on the line. To be clear, I am talking not of suspension but survival. I will recommend to my party that we do not move a petition of concern. In the meantime I apologise if in defending my own position I have at times seemed arrogant and too dismissive of fair criticism. I will submit myself to the justice of the House when the evidence is impartially weighed in order to save the Assembly and avoid a wholly unnecessary election. If a substantial majority of the rest of this House votes in favour of the motion of confidence, I will resign from office. This new motion is proof that I am confident I will be vindicated and I call on Sinn Fein to withdraw their amendment.”
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London