Demands for public inquiry as NI premier faces increased calls for resignation

Nathanael Williams

Governing parties of Northern Ireland at loggerheads as RHI scandal threatens devolution integrity

CALLS for a public inquiry have been made in response to the revelations that the Northern Irish (NI) executive has mismanaged energy scheme payments to the tune of over £400m.

A petition has been launched online demanding that the UK secretary of state for NI James Brokenshire, take immediate action to ensure that a full public inquiry is begun into allegations of corruption and incompetence.

The renewable heat incentive (RHI) scandal, dubbed “cash for ash”, has spiralled into the political crisis of the year drawing calls for the pro Brexit, DUP First Minister Arlene Foster to step down.

Stormont members walk out on Arlene Foster amid scandal resignation calls

Greg Clarke, a local resident and campaigner who started the online petition, said: “We the people request a public inquiry into the Northern Ireland RHI scheme. The Northern Ireland Executive has committed £1.2bn of taxpayers money in a scheme that had an allocated budget of £660m. The scheme was implemented with at least great incompetence and at worst corruption and fraud.

“Each person in Northern Ireland will be picking up the cost for the next 20 years, and even if monies are clawed back the money that will be spent is of questionable value.

“Only an independent public inquiry with a judge appointed by the Lord Chief Justice set up under the Inquires Act will be able to compel witnesses and get to the truth.”

“The scheme was implemented with at least great incompetence and at worst corruption and fraud.” Greg Clarke

Members of the public and political parities were prompted to ask the UK Government for a public inquiry after the justice minister of NI, Claire Sugden, who is also an independent member of the legislative assembly (MLA), suggested this week that she does not have the powers to call a full public inquiry. The minister questioned the usefulness of Foster stepping down during an investigation saying she “was not sure what such an action would achieve”.

Previously, members of opposition parties had called for Foster to temporarily step aside while an inquiry took place. However, Gerry Carroll of the People Before Profit alliance (PBP) today (Friday 6 January) tabled an amendment to the original Sinn Fein bill due on the January 16, to instead call for the first minister’s resignation.

The revelations and resignation calls have caused a split at the heart of the Stormont devolved government, with Sinn Féin threatening to call a fresh election if Foster does not stand aside for an investigation. However, commentators have warned that such a move could leave Northern Ireland without a functioning devolved administration, as power sharing is a major component of the Good Friday Agreement which formally ended armed conflict in the six counties at the end of the 1990s.

Picture courtesy of DUP Photos

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