Sinn Féin wants an urgent independent investigation into the role played by their Democratic Unionist part-ners in government in a botched green energy scheme.
Conor Murphy, a Sinn Féin Assembly member, says a public inquiry should be one of the options considered to find out what went wrong with an eco-friendly initiative that has left Stormont facing an estimated £400m overspend.
The intervention by the DUP’s coalition partner in the Stormont Executive came after DUP leader and First Minister Arlene Foster said sorry for not implementing cost controls in the ill-fated Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
The “cash for ash” controversy escalated on Thursday when former DUP economy minister Jonathan Bell levelled a series of explosive claims against Ms Foster and party advisers.
Mr Murphy said: “We need to get to the bottom of this and hold those responsible for this mess to account as a matter of urgency in order to restore public confidence.”
In an extraordinary TV interview that laid bare a bitter rift in a party known for its internal discipline, a tearful Mr Bell claimed a “highly agitated and angry” Ms Foster demanded he keep the RHI open for an extra fortnight, in the face of a Treasury warning, during a stormy showdown at Stormont when he was still economy minister earlier this year.
Mr Bell, who wants a judge-led public inquiry, also accused DUP special advisers of blocking his efforts to clamp down on the excessively lucrative green heating subsidy late last year.
Ms Foster rejected his assertions in robust terms.
It made a remarkable televised bout of acrimonious claim and counter-claim involving the leader of Northern Ireland’s largest party and one of her erstwhile ministerial colleagues. The first minister alleged Mr Bell was the one who acted aggressively in the meeting. The named special advisers also denied his claims of undue influence. Mrs Foster portrayed Mr Bell’s interview as a “distraction” to mask his own failings in regard to the scheme, insisting it was him who wanted to delay the shut-down of the massively overspent endeavour.
The DUP leader continues to face down calls to resign, or stand down pending an investigation into her involvement in the RHI. The scheme was developed during her time as economy minister. On Thursday, she claimed the Executive could take action that would potentially halve the overspend. Ms Foster will face a motion of no-confidence in the Assembly on Monday .
The error-ridden RHI was designed to incentivise businesses to replace old heat sources with new eco-friendly alternatives, such as wood-pellet boilers, but it ended up paying applicants more than the purchase price of the fuel. There was no cap on the subsidy payments, so essentially the more heat you generated, the more public money you were paid. For every £1 of fuel bought by businesses, they got paid around £1.60 through the scheme. There are claims a farmer is set to pocket around £1m in the next 20 years for heating an empty shed.
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