Foster “While at this moment in time it may seem all hope is lost I still believe we can work to achieve better and brighter days ahead”

The DUP Leader, Arlene Foster spoke today about launching an inquiry into the RHI scheme

I indicated last evening that I am disappointed that Martin McGuinness resigned as Deputy First Minister.  Today the consequences of what has happened is that it is much more difficult to deal with the RHI problems which I want to see resolved in a way that restores public confidence.

I very much regret that as politicians we have been unable to find a way through the issues and the impact of that failure is to penalise the people of Northern Ireland who have now no effective functioning Executive at a time of major challenges.

For our part we have sought to offer up solutions to the problems over the last number of weeks.  We had a number of meetings with Sinn Fein which, had the political will existed on their part, could have allowed us all to avoid the situation we now find ourselves in.  Indeed the reason the Assembly was recalled on 19th December was based on the fact we had reached agreement at the Executive on 14th December with Sinn Fein to do so, and had a clear plan in place to deal with the need to hold a full investigation and to bring costs under control.

There was never any political difference of opinion on the need to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure the overspend was eliminated.

The major sticking point between us over the last few weeks has been the fact that Sinn Fein would not agree to the establishment of an enquiry until I agreed to step aside as First Minister.

For me I felt to have done so would have led to the conclusion that I was guilty of something improper which is not the case.

I am no longer the First Minister so therefore there is no reason, under Sinn reins reasoning, why an investigation cannot now be established. 

If, however, Sinn Fein are still unwilling to allow an investigation to be established I intend to ask for an investigation, on the basis of the terms of reference discussed as part of our discussions with Sinn Fein, to be set up under the Inquiries Act 2005.  

I am determined that the public will get the facts in an independent and impartial way free from party political demands and bias.

I want to see an investigation commenced quickly so that it will be independently demonstrated that I did nothing wrong and that my integrity is vindicated.

This is vitally important from a political perspective but also fundamental for me on a personal basis. I have been quite disgracefully maligned in the most viscous manner and therefore it is of the utmost importance that the truth comes out.

Detailed work on cost controls is ongoing and material will be sent to the Department of Finance.  We want any draft legislation to bring spending into line and the Minister for the Economy will consult with other parties on this. Simon will, later this week, have more to say on both transparency and cost controls. 

For my part I am determined to do all I can to help put right what went wrong, to find out through an investigation why things went wrong and to seek to restore the credibility of Stormont in the eyes of the public.

The DUP has not given up or walked away. We want truth, transparency and cost control even though others would rather play high stakes politics with Northern Ireland’s stability.

However even if we were to address all of the problems that flowed from the RHI it is clear that Sinn Fein have additional concerns which they are attempting to introduce into discussions on their own terms.   Attempting to frame negotiations in a way that is acceptable to one party only cannot be the basis for successful discussions.

A DUP delegation met with the Secretary of State yesterday afternoon and I indicated to him our willingness to take part in any discussions to see whether a way forward can be found.  I remain open to further discussion with Sinn Fein, or any of the other parties in the Assembly over the next few days.  

If necessary we will take our case to the electorate and use it as a platform for further discussions.  I have never taken the verdict of the electorate of Northern Ireland for granted and while an election is not of our making we trust the judgement of the people.

Last May people gave us a mandate and despite all of the challenges I remain dedicated to representing all the people of Northern Ireland.  I want to do what is in the bests interests of Northern Ireland and I want us to be able to build a better future.

Despite the undoubted setbacks over these last few weeks we have achieved much for Northern Ireland over the years.  While at this moment in time it may seem all hope is lost I still believe we can work to achieve better and brighter days ahead.”