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Strabane MLA urges First Minister to step aside for RHI probe

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A STRABANE Sinn Féin MLA has echoed her party's calls for First Minister Arlene Foster to step aside to allow for a full and independent investigation into the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

The DUP leader has so far resisted calls for her to step aside as the fallout over the 'Cash for Ash' scheme shows no sign of subsiding.

The row, which is threatening the political institutions at Stormont, centres on the botched heating scheme which could end up costing Northern Ireland's taxpayers upwards of £400m.

The scheme was set up by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when Mrs Foster was minister in 2012 to encourage businesses and other non-domestic users to move from using fossil fuels to renewable heating systems.

However, flaws in setting the scheme's subsidy rate left it open to abuse as claimants could earn more cash the more fuel they burned.

The fall-out has caused upheaval at Stormont. The First Minister has already survived a vote of 'no confidence' and says she has done nothing wrong. She has also said she is fully supportive of the need for an independent investigation.

However, speaking to the Strabane Weekly News, local MLA., Michaela Boyle, says Arlene Foster and her party are in denial over the furore.

"It is clear that the RHI scandal is a massive waste of public funds and has undermined public confidence in the political institutions.

"The DUP has circled the wagons in an effort to protect their leader. They are in denial about the public outrage around the RHI scandal. This issue is not going away," she said.

"Arlene Foster needs to stand aside while an independent investigation is carried out, which is robust, time-framed, led by a judicial figure, and the results of which will be made public.

"We also need to see proposals from the Finance Minister and Economy Minister to reduce the amount of public money wasted on this scheme."

Referring the 'no confidence' motion brought by the SDLP, which Sinn Féin abstained from, she said it did not deal with the "key issues" of the scandal.

"It was always going to fail and effectively it let the DUP off the hook. It was also ironic that the SDLP voted against closing down this RHI scheme in February even though by the this time the party knew full well of the further disastrous consequences of such a decision on Assembly budgets.

"Sinn Féin brought forward a detailed proposal which will now be a motion in January that deals comprehensively with all the pressing issues involved.

"We will be asking all parties to support that motion in order to get to the bottom of this hugely important matter of public interest."

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