19/12/2016 Stormont Today


19/12/2016

Stormont Today returns as the Assembly is recalled over the controversy surrounding the implementation of the Renewable Heat Incentive.


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Transcript


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Hello and welcome to a special edition of Stormont Today,

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and what an extraordinary day it has been.

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Recalled to hear a statement by Arlene Foster on behalf

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of the Executive Office, MLAs from every party except the DUP

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walked out when Martin McGuinness withdrew his consent to that

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statement being made, leading to fevered talk of a crisis

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And a subsequent motion of no confidence in the First Minister saw

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a spirited defence mounted by DUP Members under attack

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Angry scenes as the Speaker is challenged for allowing

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the First Minister's statement to go ahead.

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I've asked you directly under which standing order you intend to

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proceed, and the fact you cannot answer forces me to ask again, where

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do you have the authority? Where do you have the authority?

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And Arlene Foster continues to insist she did nothing wrong.

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I also want to make it clear I support the need for an independent

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investigation free from partisan political interference to establish

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the facts around the incentive scheme.

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And helping us to make sense of it all, Professor Rick Wilford

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Recalls, walkouts and a no confidence motion that stood no

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It's been a day of high drama at Stormont.

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The First and Deputy First Ministers may agree on the need

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for further investigation into the Renewable Heating Incentive

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scheme, but they remain sharply divided on Mrs Foster's role in it.

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Last week it was announced that the Assembly was to be

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specially recalled, so we were always braced

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for spirited exchanges - and we got them in spades.

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Rick, some might say today brings to mind that immortal

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Conor Cruise O'Brien phrase, GUBU - "groteqsue, unbelievable,

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Indeed. I think he's got it in four words there, really. I watched like

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you a whole raft of episodes over the years since we've had devolution

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in Northern Ireland and we had some very spirited exchanges but today

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was really quite remarkable and in a class of its own. It is

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unprecedented certainly. Bizarre, yes. A bit like Alice In Wonderland.

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Things go down the rabbit hole and get curiouser and curiouser. Quite

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frankly, I can understand the anger of some of the members in

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challenging the speaker in terms of how he was awarded status to the

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statement by Arlene Foster. Lots more from you throughout the

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programme. Thank you for now. Well, let's see how

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the day panned out - and it started with MLAs gathering

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for the special statement However, it quickly became clear

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that this was not how Martin McGuinness saw it,

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and be aware, there's some flash I want to make it very, very clear

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from my perspective and that of my party that the statement which

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Arlene Foster is scheduled to make to the Assembly today does not have

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my authority or approval as Deputy First Minister. She is speaking in a

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personal capacity and not in her role as First Minister. First

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Minister should stand aside to allow the investigation to take place in

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as conducive and atmosphere as possible.

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The first attempt to get proceedings going was met by a walkout.

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Sinn Fein and all the other parties left the chamber when the Speaker,

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Robin Newton, refused to take points of order.

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He called an adjournment for half an hour, but MLAs were no more

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Having taken legal and procedural advice this morning, it is clear

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that my role in relation to the procedures of the Assembly, not the

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procedures of the Executive, and I have discharged my responsibilities

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under standing orders to recall the Assembly. She is making this

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statement on behalf of herself and that you have received the

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correspondence to indicate that, but is it difficult -- the convention

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that on behalf of the Executive the First Minister and Deputy First

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Minister are advised to make two separate statements to satisfy the

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recall of the Assembly. I think having taken the legal and perceive

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right eyes this morning, it is clear that my role in relation to the

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procedures of the Assembly, not the procedures of the Executive, and

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that I have discharged my responsibilities in line with

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standing orders to recall the Assembly. -- legal and procedural. I

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ask you under which standing order you intend to proceed, and the fact

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you cannot answer forces me to ask again, specifically which standing

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order of the operating on, then? -- are we operating? I suppose we are

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coming close to you challenging the chair's decisions. Where do you have

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the authority to say to the Executive office, make two

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statements?! You have a duty to explain that to the House, the

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people of Northern Ireland and all those who endorsed the Good Friday

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agreement. You've made yourself quite clear but I have discharged my

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responsibilities under the standing orders to recall the Assembly. The

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order paper decrees that we are hearing a ministerial statement. I

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presume the order paper is administered under your direction?

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Can you therefore indicate how this can be a ministerial statement from

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the Executive office since once half of that office has withdrawn? Isn't

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it the case that what ought to happen now is we should proceed as

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quickly as it can be arranged procedurally and in relation to the

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president to an election to this House? Because it's perfectly clear

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that it does not operate as intended, it is not operating in a

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way that serves the interests of the people of Northern Ireland and

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procedurally it seems we are now in La La land and limbo land. Please

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can we stop this charade! At what stage we going to let the First

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Minister speak, giving you have outlined that you have taken

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procedural advice and taken legal advice? At what point are we going

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to proceed to hear the statement many people from outside of this

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chamber actually want to hear from the First Minister? She no longer

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has the confidence of the Deputy First Minister in making this

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statement and it is my belief that you need to advise the House under

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what standing order you are allowing this unusual arrangement to proceed,

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if that was your decision. I am grateful to you for agreeing to

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recall the Assembly today and permitting me to make the time and a

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statement about my role in the renewables incentive scheme. Unlike

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the normal practice, which, by the way, you endorsed, I want to make it

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clear this statement has not been cleared or approved...

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And as the First Minister began her statement,

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Members from the other parties promptly left the chamber.

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Rick, Members were clearly exasperated with the line

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taken by the Speaker throughout those exchanges.

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Not just exhaust rated but utterly confused. I think the speaker and

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his officials in his office have tried post Hoch, as it were, to

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dance on the head of a procedural pain, and that is because the

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original request for the statement to be recalled was made. --

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procedural pain. Clearly statements have been made in the past few days

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about what it might or might not contain. It was said, I am not

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prepared to stand without. So the speaker was put into the invidious

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position where having received a request to summon the Assembly on a

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joint basis, then proceeding as though that's still applied, where

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in fact it didn't. So although the office, and certainly Arlene Foster

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herself must have believed she was being First Minister, but it could

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only be understood as a personal statement as the head of the DUP,

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not as First Minister. The fact that he, as the speaker, was doing it as

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a piece of politeness rather than a piece of procedure on the role she

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performed. She says it was unclear or approved by the Deputy First

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Minister but at no point does she say it is a personal statement. No,

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I think had she said that it would have allayed any confusion felt by

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members in the chamber, and they're clearly were very confused members

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and they were very angry, and quite rightly, because it is not a

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precious point, it's an important operational principle of an

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institution, the Executive, that things are jointly exercised. Going

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ahead on this basis, a unilateral basis, flies in the face of that

:10:08.:10:12.

principle. And therefore it's no wonder that the other parties in the

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chamber were actually very cross indeed, and I think quite rightly so

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it was not allowed to proceed on that basis.

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The Speaker took the unprecedented step of writing to MLAs this

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afternoon to explain how he'd made his decisions about this

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Various figures, among them Mike Nesbitt, Jim Allister

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and Eamonn McCann, went on to suggest to the media

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in the Great Hall that the Speaker's position is "very close

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Well, of course, for those critics, they have been in quite recent form.

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I don't think untenable but it has made things much more difficult.

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Now, thank you. Extraordinary scenes,

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and we haven't even heard So, finally, Arlene Foster got

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to make her statement on the renewables scheme

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at the centre of the controversy, albeit to a smaller audience

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than she might have expected. It lasted almost half an hour

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but here are some of the highlights. I want to make it clear this

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statement has not been cleared or approved by the Deputy First

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Minister. I felt it was important I came before the House at the

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earliest opportunity. For almost two weeks they has been a barrage of

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media coverage on this matter, including wild claims and

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allegations, many of which have been based on spin rather than reality.

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-- there has been. I want to give the actual facts to the Assembly. To

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repeat what I've said in media interviews, I also want to make it

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clear that in order to get to the bottom of this entire issue, I am

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prepared to waive the normal conventions and give evidence to the

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Public Accounts Committee. The one thing we can all agree on is that

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there were shocking errors in the scheme and a catalogue of mistakes

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all of which coincided to create the perfect storm, resulting in the

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position in which we now find ourselves. In all of this it is

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critical lessons are learned and that the costs of the scheme are

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brought under control. I'm sorry that the initial scheme did not

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contain cost control measures and that there were fundamental flaws in

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the design. This is the deepest political regret of my time in this

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House. As minister, I accept responsibility for the work of the

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department during my time at DETI. Once again, for the avoidance of

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doubt, I feel it is right and proper I answer to this Assembly it about

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my role in the scheme, and not for one moment do I seek to shirk or

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skirt around that responsibility. But if we are to learn lessons from

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this entire experience, it is essential we know exactly where

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things went wrong. One question asked by many is why we did not

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simply replicate the Great Britain arrangements into Northern Ireland.

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The answer is quite simple. In Great Britain, the main obstacle to the

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growth of renewable heat was and is the wide availability of affordable

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natural gas. Here, the main heating fuel is oil and gas market is

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relatively immature. It was even more so in 2012. Hence it is clear

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that to simply import the arrangement would not have been

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appropriate at that time. Well this statement is not the place to

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rehearse every feeling or flaw in the process, there is one matter I

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believe it is important I addressed. Because it is this error that goes

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to the very heart of why the costs of the scheme ran out of control.

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The crucial mistake in scheme was that the tariff for the most

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commonly used boilers, small to medium biomass, was set at a level

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higher than the market price of the relevant fuel, namely wood pellets.

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In essence, this created an incentive to continue to benefit

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your oval and above the levels required for the relevant functions.

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-- to continue to burn the fuel. I would remind I did not simply impose

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this scheme on the people of Northern Ireland. The tariff was set

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out in schedule 3 and was scrutinised by the investment

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committee and passed after debate by the Northern Ireland Assembly, and

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indeed the chair of the committee said, and I quote, the committee's

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scrutiny of the development has been considerable and reflects the

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importance and long-term nature of the proposals. Before supporting the

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RHI, the committee sought and received insurances on incentive and

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tariff levels, incentives for domestic consumers, payments to

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participants and support levels for the renewable payment he scheme. The

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unfortunate reality is nobody in government or in this Assembly in

:14:52.:14:55.

their work creating a passing this legislation picked up on this

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crucial failing. Mrs Foster then moved on to two

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major figures in this whole saga - the whistleblower who attempted

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to alert her then department to flaws in the heating scheme,

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and her former colleague, She turned first

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to the whistleblower. The BBC's Spotlight programme and

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comment has neared play of a concerned citizen and I would ask

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the entire assembly to join me in thanking a person for all she did to

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try and prevent the calamity we have fallen into. She deserves our

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highest respect and a sincere apology on behalf of my former

:15:28.:15:31.

department which should not have dismissed claims with disbelief but

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examined them with diligence. It is no exaggeration to say that had she

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been listened to on any of the three occasions when she approached DETI,

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the crisis would have been avoided. Unfortunately it has been difficult

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to establish the exact facts around contact between the concerned

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citizen and myself in the department. When I asked by

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Spotlight about the concerned citizen, I said I pass them onto

:15:57.:15:59.

officials to investigate and it is now obvious that these investigation

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should have highlighted the failings of the scheme and action should have

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been taken. I made this statement from memory and an advice appeared

:16:08.:16:13.

to indicate that she raised concerns with me directly. This is my normal

:16:14.:16:17.

and the appropriate practice to pass any concerns received from members

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of the public to the relevant officials. However, my response was

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made without the benefit of having reviewed the original letter. It is

:16:27.:16:29.

now clear that the initial communication to me did not raise

:16:30.:16:35.

concerns with the RHI scheme and I understood from the Department of

:16:36.:16:38.

the economy officials who have spoken to the person that this was

:16:39.:16:41.

the only correspondence sent directly to me. A subsequent e-mail

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to my private account the following week has now come to light in which

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there are references to concerns about the scheme. Since the

:16:56.:16:58.

announcement of my decision to make the statement, the former minister

:16:59.:17:00.

has given an interview to the BBC and he makes a number of allegations

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in relation to the decision to amend and subsequently close the scheme. I

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think that it is important that I also take this opportunity to put on

:17:06.:17:08.

record the factual position in relation to a number of those

:17:09.:17:12.

allegations. Mr Bell alleged on several occasions that he took

:17:13.:17:16.

action immediately to introduce cost control measures into the scheme and

:17:17.:17:20.

signed off the submission at the most immediate point that he could.

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This is untrue. Mr Bell further claims that other SPADs became

:17:26.:17:31.

involved in the process who were not allowing the scheme to close. The

:17:32.:17:35.

fact remains that the Minister signed off a proposal which was to

:17:36.:17:40.

take effect from the 4th of November, 2015. The only further

:17:41.:17:43.

delay in the introduction of cost-control measures was as a

:17:44.:17:47.

result of legal and financial issues are being resolved by departmental

:17:48.:17:50.

officials and which were unconnected to any ministerial decision. This is

:17:51.:17:54.

not an exhaustive rebuttal of the allegations made by Mr Bell but I

:17:55.:17:57.

hope will convey with documentary evidence of what happened. I also

:17:58.:18:03.

want to make clear that I support the need for an independent

:18:04.:18:06.

investigation, free from partisan political interference to establish

:18:07.:18:13.

the facts around the Isles of Sheppy. This must be made public and

:18:14.:18:18.

any investigation must be conducted speedily to assist in building

:18:19.:18:19.

public confidence --. RHI. It's likely, then, that we will see

:18:20.:18:24.

an inquiry in the New Year, but any fears that the institutions

:18:25.:18:28.

were under real threat because of today's events seemed

:18:29.:18:30.

to be allayed when Martin McGuinness gave an interview to my

:18:31.:18:33.

colleague Mark Devenport. The Deputy First Minister says he's

:18:34.:18:34.

more interested in repairing any financial damage the flawed

:18:35.:18:37.

scheme has caused. We need a robust, independent

:18:38.:18:47.

investigation into the biggest financial scandal any bus have

:18:48.:18:51.

witnessed in a long time regarding the RHI scheme. We need a credible

:18:52.:18:59.

working relationship between Simon Hamilton and Martina Willey in order

:19:00.:19:05.

that we cut back on the money which potentially we could lose over the

:19:06.:19:10.

course of the next two decades and of course, in my conversation with

:19:11.:19:16.

Arlene Foster, a number of days ago, outlined, not an instruction, but

:19:17.:19:23.

what I would do if I was in a similar circumstance -- Mairtin O'

:19:24.:19:28.

Mueillor. That was to accept a robust investigation and that I

:19:29.:19:33.

would stand aside for what I think would be a short period to allow the

:19:34.:19:38.

investigation to report. Arlene Foster made it clear that she was

:19:39.:19:41.

not standing aside and she went ahead with this statement, has that

:19:42.:19:46.

damage the joint nature of your office? My concern about the

:19:47.:19:49.

statement and the staters of the statement would have been, if there

:19:50.:19:53.

had been anything in the statement that indicated an action, on behalf

:19:54.:19:59.

of herself, either as leader of the DUP or, depending on her thinking,

:20:00.:20:05.

as First Minister, that would have brought us to a major crisis. In the

:20:06.:20:11.

event, none of that happened. Gerry Adams said in a speech on Saturday

:20:12.:20:14.

that your health issues were making the handling of this more

:20:15.:20:18.

problematic, what can you share with us about your health at the moment?

:20:19.:20:23.

I am being attended to by a wonderful group of doctors and

:20:24.:20:27.

nurses from our health service and I think that is all I need to say

:20:28.:20:30.

about it at the moment. Is it the kind of thing where you can come

:20:31.:20:33.

back to work, you're confident you will be able to come back to work?

:20:34.:20:54.

We made it clear from the very beginning, when they issued the

:20:55.:20:56.

statement explaining the circumstances of China that I was

:20:57.:20:58.

continuing with my ministerial duties and anyone who has seen me

:20:59.:21:01.

recently and today can see that I am doing that.

:21:02.:21:01.

Martin McGuinness talking to Mark Devenport.

:21:02.:21:03.

What is Sinn Fein's strategy in all of this?

:21:04.:21:06.

Is the party endeavouring to position itself in the hope

:21:07.:21:08.

They are leaving some concessions and other policy areas. I think they

:21:09.:21:12.

are determined, as they see themselves, Sinn Fein that is, as

:21:13.:21:15.

the defenders of the institution, to ensure that would ever investigation

:21:16.:21:20.

or enquiry is undertaken, is actually seem to be robust and is

:21:21.:21:25.

fully transparent. There is a real difference between an investigation

:21:26.:21:29.

which is what the DUP one, which suggests to me, and in-house

:21:30.:21:34.

investigation by officials, which is what Sinn Fein is asking. Those

:21:35.:21:39.

things are very far apart. They are and the judge led enquiry would have

:21:40.:21:43.

many more powers and would be much more forensic in its approach and it

:21:44.:21:48.

would be external to the Assembly and all the other institutions.

:21:49.:21:53.

There is one point worth acknowledging as a result, whether

:21:54.:22:00.

it is an investigation, or a full-fledged enquiry, in opting for

:22:01.:22:05.

an enquiry or some kind of investigation, it actually says we

:22:06.:22:09.

do not have any confidence in the Public Accounts Committee of the

:22:10.:22:13.

Assembly, it pulls the rug from underneath its authority. Just a

:22:14.:22:16.

quick word about the performance of Arlene Foster. Did she flirt with

:22:17.:22:21.

humility as one commentator said in advance of her statement, that you

:22:22.:22:24.

very much needed to do? I agree with that. I thought a prime requirement

:22:25.:22:31.

for Arlene Foster is that she should take a big helping of humble pie and

:22:32.:22:38.

she didn't, she was quite abrasive and non-conciliatory and competent.

:22:39.:22:41.

We had come to expect that from her, ordinarily, but this is not an

:22:42.:22:45.

ordinary situation. This is an extraordinary situation and the

:22:46.:22:49.

public is justifiably very cross about this. I would have thought

:22:50.:22:54.

that humility would have been one of the strap line of her approach, but

:22:55.:22:56.

it was not there. Thank you. The other big discussion

:22:57.:23:00.

point today, of course, was an SDLP motion of no confidence

:23:01.:23:03.

in the First Minister. It was never going to pass as it

:23:04.:23:05.

required cross-community support, but it did give Members a chance

:23:06.:23:08.

to voice their concerns about Arlene Foster and for her

:23:09.:23:10.

party colleagues to speak up Today members were expecting to

:23:11.:23:20.

scrutinise the draft budget from the Finance Minister. Yet we meet today

:23:21.:23:24.

to discuss the career of one individual. During the week, there

:23:25.:23:28.

was confusion at whether an Executive Office press release was

:23:29.:23:32.

actually a DUP press release, today we are informed that the First

:23:33.:23:36.

Minister is speaking without the authority of her joint office. All

:23:37.:23:40.

of this is because the DUP leader will not do the decent thing, the

:23:41.:23:46.

dignified thing and step aside. We can't go on like this. The longer

:23:47.:23:52.

the First Minister clings on, the more her credibility will fade and

:23:53.:23:56.

let me assure the First Minister, Christmas will not save her. The RHI

:23:57.:24:03.

to be fully investigated and understood and understood and that

:24:04.:24:05.

is what will happen. We need to know exactly what went wrong and how we

:24:06.:24:09.

are going to fix it. What does not serve the people of Northern Ireland

:24:10.:24:13.

well are those who seek to play cheap political points. I know

:24:14.:24:17.

Christmas is coming, but the attempt to turn this issue into a political

:24:18.:24:21.

pantomime is it a version and a distraction from the important work

:24:22.:24:26.

that is going on. This motion turns what has been a very serious issue

:24:27.:24:40.

into low farce. I am ready and willing to go to the Public Accounts

:24:41.:24:45.

Committee. I have made that clear. But by magic, that is not good

:24:46.:24:47.

enough, they will be out before I get near the committee before I get

:24:48.:24:50.

asked a single question or even open my mouth. So much for due process,

:24:51.:24:53.

so much for justice, so much for the facts. While I might have little

:24:54.:24:56.

sympathy for Jonathan Bell in many things, he was clearly handed a pass

:24:57.:25:02.

if ever there was one. Yet there is no minister who is responsible. It

:25:03.:25:07.

is all the fault of the officials, it was someone else, it was the

:25:08.:25:10.

previous minister. The responsibility, the accountability

:25:11.:25:15.

and need to atone for this disaster lies with only one person. The First

:25:16.:25:20.

Minister was called on today to voluntarily stepped down and allow

:25:21.:25:24.

an investigation to take place without prejudice. I said that last

:25:25.:25:28.

week and they say it again now, to put the integrity of office against

:25:29.:25:33.

the interests of a party. She still has time to do so. The previous

:25:34.:25:38.

First Minister stood aside in order to allow investigation into a ?50

:25:39.:25:45.

million land deal. ?50,000 land deal pales into insignificance in

:25:46.:25:49.

comparison to what we are dealing with here. I'm embarrassed standing

:25:50.:25:53.

here listening to the debate and the debate that has happened so far.

:25:54.:25:57.

You're losing the run of yourselves. This issue is about public

:25:58.:26:00.

confidence. The previous Speaker talked about how the Executive has

:26:01.:26:05.

delivered in the last number of months and it has delivered on many

:26:06.:26:09.

fronts, but every action and delivery that has happened to date

:26:10.:26:12.

has been overshadowed by the fact that the DUP cannot accept that as

:26:13.:26:16.

leader needs to stand aside to make sure there is a full investigation

:26:17.:26:20.

into the issues which have been played out, drip fed into the public

:26:21.:26:24.

either for the last number of weeks. I'm not interested in the internal

:26:25.:26:29.

wrangling of the DUP, get mother, fight among yourselves. The First

:26:30.:26:32.

Minister said arrogantly that she has nothing to hide but she

:26:33.:26:36.

certainly does. She was the architect of this whole scheme and

:26:37.:26:38.

she intervened on several occasions to keep it in operation, despite

:26:39.:26:43.

warnings from senior civil servants and others about the scheme. This

:26:44.:26:48.

isn't some administrative air or something that she can pass the buck

:26:49.:26:51.

on -- error. Nowhere else in the world would politicians be allowed

:26:52.:26:54.

to get away with theirs and her position is untenable. I will not be

:26:55.:26:58.

supporting the motion tabled by the opposition because I believe it to

:26:59.:27:02.

be premature. You're asking me to support a motion that excludes the

:27:03.:27:10.

First Minister on the basis of no confidence. My confidence in the

:27:11.:27:12.

First Minister or lack of confidence in the First Minister will be based

:27:13.:27:15.

on unsubstantiated information, not allegations manifested in the media,

:27:16.:27:18.

particularly as Justice Minister, it would be remiss of me to pass

:27:19.:27:22.

judgment without a full hearing. No court in the land would do so. Mrs

:27:23.:27:29.

Foster says this is a Tobacco, the Oxford dictionary defines that as a

:27:30.:27:33.

supplement and ignominious failure. It is a story about confidence,

:27:34.:27:40.

ineptitude and powerlessness. We will now vote, those who go that way

:27:41.:27:44.

are voting for a career, those who go that way are voting for the

:27:45.:27:48.

integrity of these institutions. When it came to it, Sinn Fein

:27:49.:27:51.

didn't turn up to vote, despite taking part in the debate,

:27:52.:27:54.

and, as expected, the motion fell. Has Arlene Foster managed to lance

:27:55.:27:56.

the boil, for now at least? I think she has put a sticking

:27:57.:28:08.

plaster, but if you like to use at theatrical metaphor, this was a

:28:09.:28:12.

prologue to the main proceedings, which is the form that some kind of

:28:13.:28:16.

enquiry or investigation will take. That is the centrepiece of this. My

:28:17.:28:22.

own preference would be for a formal judge led enquiry, I figure would be

:28:23.:28:25.

more frantic and it could be done efficiently. She has not put an end

:28:26.:28:33.

to this, this is just the overture. How wounded do you think she has

:28:34.:28:39.

been by the last week to ten days? I do not think there is any question

:28:40.:28:44.

other than she has been damaged, don't forget, this is a party which

:28:45.:28:50.

prides itself on physical conservatism and here have a party

:28:51.:28:54.

now at the centre of an enormous controversy over the potential

:28:55.:28:59.

overcommitment of ?400 million of taxpayers money. Not only is her

:29:00.:29:02.

personal reputation damage, and it was not helped today by her lack of

:29:03.:29:08.

humility, the party image has been damaged as well. Just finally and

:29:09.:29:13.

briefly, how damage do you think the key relationship at the heart of

:29:14.:29:17.

government in Northern Ireland, that relationship between the DUP and

:29:18.:29:21.

Sinn Fein? The default position of that relationship has always been

:29:22.:29:25.

one of mutual mistrust and suspicion, it is at best and on

:29:26.:29:29.

civil partnership, it is not a happy marriage, this will not have helped,

:29:30.:29:35.

but no doubt, I suspect what will happen in the fullness of time is

:29:36.:29:39.

that they will muddle through. We have proven very adept at muddling

:29:40.:29:42.

through in Northern Ireland and I suspect this is how this will end up

:29:43.:29:44.

as well. Thank you. That's it from this special

:29:45.:29:48.

edition of Stormont Today. We'll be back in January,

:29:49.:29:50.

but until then, from everyone You only grow old once,

:29:51.:29:52.

so you might as well enjoy it.

:29:53.:30:18.

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