08/12/2016

RHI Scheme: Foster Called To Appear Before Public Accounts Committee

First Minister Arlene Foster has been called to appear before the Public Accounts Committees following shocking revelations surrounding the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme in Northern Ireland.

An investigation by Spotlight revealed several flaws in the scheme along with the heavy cost it carried for the public purse.

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood also urged deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, to make the call to Mrs Foster "today".

He said: "The enormity of the mismanagement, the overspend and the incompetence involved in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme demands the highest level of political accountability.

"The unwritten convention which allows Ministers to duck tough questions should be no impediment to transparency on this issue. And the First Minister cannot use it as a shield to deflect legitimate public interest scrutiny.

"Only in October, Minister Michael Noonan waived a similar convention to appear before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committees to answer questions on the NAMA scandal.

"There is no reason why Arlene Foster cannot do the same. In circumstances which involve a scandal of this scale - conventions are there to be broken.

"She should end her silence following the Spotlight programme and face up to her legacy of mismanagement and waste."

Ulster Unionist Leader, Mike Nesbitt MLA, said Mrs Foster should "consider her position".
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He said: "This is the biggest financial foul-up in the history of the country. We will be paying for this for the next twenty years so there are children not yet born who will become Mothers and Fathers before this debt is paid off.

"What is now in the public domain proves hundreds of millions of pounds were wasted needlessly, the Department was dysfunctional, unaware of the rules, and hapless in seeking solutions.

"This is a scandal prone Executive and on this occasion, it comes to a fundamental tenet of democratic government called Ministerial Accountability. If Arlene Foster believes in it, she must consider her position."

Alliance Economy spokesperson Stephen Farry said the First Minister has "significant questions to answer".

Mr Farry said: "As Minister, she was responsible for the policy direction and large aspects of the operation of her Department. The questions include what level of scrutiny she deployed around the original design of the scheme, as well as the handling of the warnings provided to her by the whistle-blower. It is simply not good enough to say the email was referred to officials, implying the end of any Ministerial obligation.

"In my own experience as a former Minister, anything of that seriousness would have been recalled and regular updates given on actions being taken until or unless I received a written assurance all issues had been investigated and addressed where appropriate.

"Arlene Foster's credibility and competence as a Minister have been further called into question by the BBC Spotlight revelations. The ball is in her court to re-establish her credentials."

(CD)

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