Arlene Foster survives attempts to force her to stand down

North’s First Minister says SDLP motion against her ‘worthy of a Carry On film’

A member of the Stormont security staff looks on the television feed of First Minster Arlene Foster addressing the Assembly  in Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

A member of the Stormont security staff looks on the television feed of First Minster Arlene Foster addressing the Assembly in Stormont. Photograph: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

 

Arlene Foster has survived a no confidence debate in the Northern Assembly and repeated calls by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness for her to stand aside as First Minister.

Following a day of political drama the opposition parties failed with a combined no confidence motion driven by the SDLP to compel Ms Foster to stand aside for six months as First Minister due to the botched renewable heat incentive scheme.

Sinn Féin abstained in the confidence motion while 39 Assembly members supported it and 36 opposed. Despite the three-vote majority the motion failed because it did not have the required majority of both unionist and nationalist MLAs.

A combative Ms Foster apologised for the failures in the renewable heat scheme but was dismissive of the no-confidence motion which she said was “doomed” from the outset because of the cross-community support for it that was required.

“This is nothing short of an attempt at a constitutional coup d’etat. I have to say that it is a coup d’etat more worthy of a Carry On film,” she said.

“This motion turns what has been a very serious issue into low farce. It is a kamikaze motion with no prospect of success, and the signatories to it know that,” she added.

She repeated she would not be stepping aside: “I am here. I will stay here to fulfil the trust that has been placed in me and to make sure that the whole mess is being cleared up.”

Walkouts

There were two walkouts by opposition MLAs and complaints that the DUP speaker Robin Newton should not have permitted Ms Foster to make a statement about the scheme.

Mr McGuinness said as his and Ms Foster’s office was a joint one, her statement did not have his approval and should not have been delivered. After much procedural wrangling Mr Newton allowed Ms Foster speak, after which all non-DUP MLAs present walked out.

Mr McGuinness called for Ms Foster to stand aside ahead of her statement a and again after the Assembly was adjourned yesterday evening .

Mr McGuinness already had warned of “grave consequences” if Ms Foster did not stand down. But when he spoke to UTV’s 6pm news programme he appeared to have softened his position.

“I think it is important to state that any conversations I had with Arlene about [standing down] wasn’t in the context of issuing orders or instructions; it was friendly advice on the basis of, ‘Arlene this is what I would do if I was in your situation’,” he said.

As well as urging Ms Foster to stand aside, Mr McGuinness said that he wanted an independent investigation into the scheme . He also wanted action to limit the cost of the overspend. A Sinn Féin motion to that effect is due to be debated in January at the Assembly.

But Ms Foster in her speech at the Assembly conceded the need for an investigation and the requirement to ensure the scheme does not cost the Northern taxpayer £400 million.

The Sinn Féin minister for finance Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and the DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton are to engage in discussions to try to “recoup” some of the threatened losses, said Mr McGuinness. That was “eminently do-able,” he said.