Gerry Adams warns Foster on refusal to step aside over ‘cash for ash’

SF president tells members his party will bring ‘unacceptable state of affairs to an end’

Gerry Adams was addressing party members gathered at The Felons in Belfast to discuss  difficulties Stormont faces over  controversial ‘cash for ash’ scheme. File photograph: Eric Luke

Gerry Adams was addressing party members gathered at The Felons in Belfast to discuss difficulties Stormont faces over controversial ‘cash for ash’ scheme. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

Gerry Adams has issued a stark warning to Arlene Foster over her refusal to step aside as First Minister while an investigation into Northern Ireland’s botched green energy programme takes place.

“The future of the political institutions are at a defining point,” Mr Adams said on Saturday.

The Sinn Féin president was addressing party members gathered at The Felons in Belfast to discuss the difficulties Stormont faces over the controversial Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) or “cash for ash” scheme , which it is thought could cost the Northern taxpayer around £490 million (€570million).

In a speech Mr Adams strongly hinted at the consequences Ms Foster’s failure to stand aside could have.

He said: “If the First Minister does not take the actions that society desires and deserves, and which a sustainable process of change requires, then Sinn Féin will bring this ongoing and totally unacceptable state of affairs to an end.”

Northern Ireland’s RHI scheme, set up in 2012 when Ms Foster was enterprise minister, was modelled on Britain’s scheme to encourage farmers and businesses to switch from fossil fuel systems to biomass heating systems such as wood-burning boilers.

However, as there was no cap on usage as part of the Northern Ireland scheme subsidies are committed to being paid out over the next 20 years well in excess of the costs of buying renewable fuel such as wood pellets.

The farmers and businesses signed up to the scheme are expected to receive £1.60 (€1.87) in subsidies for every £1 (€1.17) spent.

Disagreement

Disagreement between the coalition partners over the issue of Ms Foster stepping aside is threatening the future of the Northern Executive and Assembly and could lead to early elections.

During his speech Mr Adams also spoke of “mutual respect and manners” being necessary to make the political institutions in the North work.

He claimed in the decade Sinn Féin has been sharing power in the North, “the actions of the DUP, despite the generosity of republicans, has been to undermine equality and partnership”.

He said it was “not good enough” that Ms Foster refused to stand aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report by an independent panel investigation in to RHI”.

“Arlene Foster is not a prime minister,” he added.

“She is a co-equal partner in the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.

“She can continue in that office but only for as long as Sinn Féin allows it.”

On Friday Ms Foster said she was “comfortable” with the proposals Sinn Féin had forwarded to the DUP “with the exception of the issue of stepping aside”.

She suggested Sinn Féin’s proposals for a three-month RHI panel-led probe headed by a judicial figure “provide a basis for taking an investigation forward”. Stormont is in recess at the moment and is expected to reconvene on January 16th.