News | Colum Eastwood moves motion to exclude Arlene Foster

Colum Eastwood moves motion to exclude Arlene Foster

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MLA today moved a motion to exclude Arlene Foster from Ministerial office. Beginning the debate he said,

Mr Speaker,

The SDLP brings this motion before the House in the full awareness of just how serious a moment this is for our local politics.

As we attempt to claw back the £400 million and more which may be lost to our local taxpayers, let us also act to claw back the fading threads of confidence in these institutions. 

As we draw towards the end of 2016 let us today act to redeem and restore some faith that public service, for the common and the collective good, remains worth fighting for.

In that context, the SDLP welcomes the cross-party support this motion has received.

There is a reason for that unity and the DUP members of this House would do well to take heed of it.

Since entering into public life, as a councillor and as an MLA, never have I seen our public more engaged and more angry about a single issue.

I would hazard a guess that as each of us walked the streets of our constituencies this weekend, MLAs from right across this chamber were hearing that same disgust.


Mr Speaker,

Ours is a community united in anger.

And let it be recognised here today that it is an anger which the public have every right to hold.

The last number of months has seen a damaging pattern to our politics.

The cloud hanging over the Nama deal, the inaction on Brexit, the structure of SIF, the continued funding and appeasement of a UDA boss.  

Amongst the many uncertainties of the last political period there is one thing we can all say for sure- there is no Fresh Start here.

The scandal of the non-domestic Renewable Heating Scheme is by far the biggest imprint in that damaging pattern.

This is the biggest public finance scandal ever to hit these institutions.

As this scandal has unfolded, it has suited some to try and muddy the waters.

But we must not be distracted.

This scandal must not be reduced to a psychodrama between the member from Strangford and the now First Minister.

It must not be reduced to being just about a fallout between former friends or revised to tell only a story about a split in one political party.

It is so much bigger than any of that.

So far digging into this scandal has uncovered staggering incompetence – digging deeper has the potential to uncover corruption.

Therefore, let us be precise and forensic about the information which is still left unanswered.


Mr speaker,

The best place to start is always at the beginning and, whether the First Minister likes it or not, this scandal begins with her.

The RHI scheme was deliberately changed from the GB model.

The question still remains as to why this happened.

When the scheme was drawn up in Northern Ireland, why were some of the GB regulations copied and included and why were some not?

In particular, why was section 9 of the GB regulations not included - a section which would have established cost controls for the entire scheme?

Did the First Minister advise or take advice on the inclusion of cost controls?


Move on to personal warnings received by the First Minister.

We have now lost count as to how many times the account and the response of the DUP to the whistleblower has changed.

This morning’s revelations add further to the impression that the First Minister was aware of a lot more than the ‘jot and tittle’ of this scheme.

Did she deal with other whistleblowers in precisely the same fashion as she dealt with this lady?


Move forward to 2015.

When will we get the names of the 984 applications to the scheme which were made between the months September to November 2015?

Did the First Minister privately advocate for the scheme and on what scale?

The same question applies to her party colleagues and their staff.

When did Mr Stephen Brimstone make his application?

Move on to the role of special advisers.

What direction and under who’s control do DUP special advisers work under?

Are DUP politicians collectively responsible to DUP special adviser or is it the other way around?

In addition to departmental files, will the DUP publish all of its internal correspondence regarding the RHI scheme?


Mr Speaker,

The questions are many and the questions are detailed.

For two weeks now, confusion has been met with contradiction.

My party is clear; it will now require a full public judge-led inquiry to get to the full truth.

It is only right and reasonable therefore that the First Minister, having failed to take the opportunity to step aside, is excluded from her office whilst this investigation takes place.

Let it be in the hands of the person tasked with leading that public inquiry to determine whether the First Minister is fit to resume office.

I note that the member for Strangford has been removed from his position by the DUP pending an investigation.

Surely the First Minister should follow the same logic and accept the same fate.


Mr Speaker,

Her continuation in office will bring further deadlock to an already failing Executive.

Today members were expecting to scrutinise the draft budget from the Finance Minister yet we meet today to discuss the career of one individual.

During the week there was confusion whether an Executive office press release was actually just a DUP press release.

Today we are informed that the First Minister is speaking without the authority of her joint office.

All of this because the DUP leader won’t do the decent thing, the dignified thing, and step aside.

We can’t go on like this.

The longer the First Minister clings on the more her credibility will fade.

And let me assure the First Minister - Christmas won’t save her.


Mr Speaker,

Let me now turn briefly turn to the First Minister’s coalition partners who, given their position, will obviously play an important role in today’s proceedings.

I welcome that Sinn Féin have moved on to similar ground as the opposition parties.

I acknowledge that they have come a distance over the course of the last two weeks and have struggled to come to a position.

I would genuinely urge Sinn Féin members- having travelled this far, come a little further.

Let them now support our motion and exclude this First Minister until a full investigation takes place.

In doing so let them follow the advice of someone they might respect who spoke not so long ago on a scandal.

‘People have seen through this because citizens are not stupid. They have seen through the patronising responses and insulting remarks.

The actions of the Government in this Chamber in failing to be straight with the Opposition or with citizens is damaging faith in the political system.

He goes on to say that a credible government cannot continue to ‘evade questions and duck and dodge their responsibilities, they merely expose this Government's arrogance and incompetence.’

Those are the words of Mr Gerry Adams supporting a motion of no-confidence in the Dáil in 2014.

They would be wise to avoid a partition in their principles.


Mr Speaker,

2016 has been a strange and serious year for politics.

Even those who only tune in occasionally to current affairs will have noticed a change in its frequency and tone.

If 2016 was a bad year for losing musical greats, it has been a worse year for politics.

Too often in the last year, public service has been opportunistically downgraded and demeaned in the minds of the public.

As we begin to face into 2017 let us begin to change that narrative.

First Minister,

Redeem some faith that public service is beyond the selfish needs of any one individual.

Redeem some faith in these institutions and restore some dignity in your office and in our politics.

Think beyond yourself and your party.

First Minister,

Step aside or face exclusion.

I propose the motion to the House.

Colum Eastwood MLA

028 71350045

Latest Posts