Irish Republican News · December 17, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Sinn Fein could turn against corrupt DUP
Sinn Fein could turn against corrupt DUP

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Over a thousand people have attended protests in Belfast and Derry calling for DUP leader Arlene Foster to resign as Six County First Minister after a public display of DUP infighting over corruption allegations.

Stormont politics may be entering a new period of turmoil after Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness called on Foster (pictured, right) to step aside to allow an independent inquiry look into the environmental incentive scheme at the heart of the latest crisis.

The so-called ‘cash for ash’ scheme rewarded those burning wooden pellets and other ‘green energy’ products. It provided a substantial and unlimited income for those who carried out large-scale incineration of biomass fuels for virtually any purpose.

The runaway scheme appears to have been used to enrich a cohort of insiders and cronies, however, much of the detail remains a Stormont secret.

A number of those already identifed as having signed up have links to the DUP, including a DUP advisor, a family member and a DUP-controlled council.

Unless a legal device is found to claw back contracted funds, the scheme could cost 400 million pounds over the next 20 years.

Mr McGuinness called for Foster to stand aside pending a review, but this was quickly rejected by the DUP, with a spokesman saying: “The First Minister does not take her instructions from Sinn Fein, but from the electorate.”

Foster said she will deliver a “full statement” on the matter on Monday in the Belfast Assembly and outline how she hopes to reduce the extent of the potential overspend. She also faces a motion of no confidence tabled by the SDLP.

At the moment, the DUP has the numbers to prevent the motion being carried. Sinn Fein is meeting today in Derry to decide how to vote, but there is a prospect that the affair could result in the collapse of the current assembly and possibly fresh elections.

The row over the ‘cash for ash’ scheme is the latest in a series of controversies and scandals which has embroiled the DUP but also damaged Sinn Fein in the process. Most recently, the Stormont administration has been accused of illegally funnelling millions of pounds to UDA paramilitaries.

In recent years Martin McGuinness and his colleagues in Sinn Fein have staunchly defended their coalition with the DUP, but the party was forced to yield to intense public pressure this week after former DUP Minister Jonathan Bell (pictured, left) turned ‘whistleblower’. He dramatically suggested Foster had blocked a move to close the scheme, potentially costing hundreds of millions of pounds, and accused Foster of operating a “hostile” atmosphere of “fear”.

Mr Bell, who knelt to pray before giving the explosive interview, claimed his attempts to close off the lucrative tariffs were thwarted by DUP advisers. “I believe this scheme was kept open wrongly, inappropriately and when I commit to telling the truth I am not prepared to speculate why other people did what they did,” he said.

The interview by Bell and another by Foster this week in which they accused each other of bullying proved gripping television and recalled the worst days of the Stormont era under former DUP leader Peter Robinson.

Mr McGuinness said he made his call to the First Minister to stand down during a conversation on Friday afternoon.

“I outlined my serious concern that the credibility of the political institutions is being undermined by the serious and ongoing allegations surrounding the design, operation, abuse and ending of the renewable heating incentive scheme,” he said.

“This includes allegations from a former DUP minster that there was corruption...This scheme has directly impacted on the public purse. Taxpayers’ money wasted in this scheme needs to be retrieved.

“It is my belief the only way to establish the truth, and rebuild the reputation of the institutions, is to urgently establish a fully independent investigation into this matter.”

Mr McGuinness said it would be “in the public interest” for Ms Foster to stand aside as First Minister “while that investigation is underway and at least until an initial assessment had been concluded into the veracity of all the allegations”.

He said: “That is what I would do if I was in this situation.”

In response, a DUP spokesman said, “The First Minister will not be stepping aside, but instead is focused on ensuring the full facts about this issue emerge and proposals are brought forward which can make a significant reduction in the future financial burden the Executive would face.”

Protests outside Belfast City Hall and Guildhall Square in Derry on Friday evening organised by People before Profit brought large crowds and were supported by a number of republican groups.

Gerry Carroll of People before Profit praised the “fantastic turnout” and thanked everyone who attended. “The time for waiting on politicians ‘to get their act together’ is over,” he wrote on Facebook. “Our message is clear; what Stormont does, the people can undo. Arlene has to go, and the whole corrupt system can go with her.”

© 2016 Irish Republican News