The Northern Ireland Assembly has been briefly suspended this morning after disagreement over a statement that was to be made by Arlene Foster, the First Minister. Foster was to make a statement on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (RHI) which has proved controversial and went significantly over-budget.
Due to power sharing arrangements in the Province the office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have joint responsibility for the Northern Ireland Executive. Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister, has said that he does not support the making of the speech made by Foster.
The Assembly was suspended for thirty minutes after most Assembly members walked out of the chamber, with the exception of the DUP, the party led by Foster. When it reconvened there were a string of point of orders to Robin Newton, the Speaker of the Assembly. Newton responded that the Northern Ireland Executive had authorised the speech, even though the Deputy First Minister had withdrawn his support.
The speech that the First Minister was making related to RHI which was a scheme introduced in November 2012 to encourage an increase in renewable energy. The Minister at the time responsible for the introduction of the scheme was Arlene Foster, who is now the First Minister. The cost of the scheme cost £1 billion and Foster admitted to “a catalogue of mistakes which resulted in a perfect storm”. She accepted “full responsibility” for the scheme and said that she wanted to respond to the Assembly at the earliest stage, even without the approval of the Deputy First Minister.
The Treasury will contribute £600 million to finance the scheme, but the Assembly will have to fund £400 million from its block grant over the next twenty years. This will mean that £20 million will now be spent on the failed scheme every year, although Foster has said that she intends to reduce the total cost of the scheme.