Thursday 14 December 2017

'Misogyny claim is Foster trying to divert attention from scandal' - SF

A member of the public looks at a mural referencing the RHI crisis and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster in a Belfast city centre car park. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
A member of the public looks at a mural referencing the RHI crisis and Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster in a Belfast city centre car park. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

David Youngs

A senior Sinn Féin minister dismissed as "nonsense" claims from Northern Ireland's First Minister that misogyny is motivating calls for her to stand down.

Michelle O'Neill said Arlene Foster's claims were diverting from criticism of her role in a botched green energy scheme.

"Arlene Foster is trying to divert attention away from getting to the truth and holding those responsible to account," said Ms O'Neill.

It came as Sinn Féin, the DUP's partners in the power-sharing government in Belfast, rejected proposed terms of a Stormont investigation into a furore that has left the administration facing a £490m (€577m) overspend.

Ms Foster claimed health problems being experienced by Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness were a factor behind his party's demand for her to step aside, blaming it on internal "jockeying for position".

She said the DUP was drawing up plans that would wipe out Stormont's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) bill.

Read more: Comment: Sinn Féin wants electorate to ignore everything it says and does up North

Ms Foster also claimed the fact she is the first female to hold the leading position in the Stormont Executive is an issue.

"A lot of it is personal, a lot of it sadly is misogynistic as well because I am a female - the first female leader of Northern Ireland - so I firmly believe that is the case as well," she said.

However, Alliance Party leader Naomi Long rejected Ms Foster's misogyny claims.

"There is misogyny and sexism in politics, just as there is bullying, but it's a dangerous game to misrepresent being held accountable for your actions as any of those things," she said.

Ms Foster oversaw the inception of the RHI scheme during her time as economy minister. Sinn Féin warned they will collapse the Executive if Ms Foster does not temporarily stand down to facilitate a probe.

If that happens, Northern Ireland will be facing a snap Assembly election, less than a year after the last one.

Ms Foster and DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds later held talks with Mr McGuinness and Ms O'Neill.

During the exchanges, Sinn Féin said Mr McGuinness repeated his call for Ms Foster to step aside, without prejudice, pending a preliminary report of an independent investigation.

Ms O'Neill said her party had drafted its own proposed terms of reference for a probe.

"These will ensure a robust, time-framed, independent investigation with powers to compel witnesses and subpoena documents," she said.

Irish Independent

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