NI: Claire Sugden stands by First Minister and calls for RHI investigation

Justice Minister Claire Sugden
Justice Minister Claire Sugden

Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister Claire Sugden has called for her Department of Justice to be taken into account in a full investigation into Stormont’s RHI scandal.

Ms Sugden declined to support a motion of no confidence in First Minister Arlene Foster in a tense vote yesterday, calling it “premature”.

She joined the DUP in voting against the motion, which was supported by SDLP, UUP, Green, People Before Profit and TUV MLAs.

Ms Foster has come under pressure following allegations that, during her term as Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, she ignored warnings from whistleblowers over a renewable energy scheme (RHI) that went on to record a £400 million overspend.

Speaking in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Ms Sugden told MLAs: “I will not support the motion tabled by the Opposition and smaller parties because I believe it to be premature.

“You ask me to support a motion that excludes the First Minister on the basis of no confidence: my confidence or, indeed, lack of confidence in the First Minister will be based on substantiated information, not allegations manifested in the media.

“It would be remiss of me, particularly as Justice Minister, to pass judgement without a full investigation or hearing. No court in the land would do so, so why is it appropriate to do so in the House today before a fair independent investigation? The motion is premature.”

She said she would “certainly support a full independent investigation, judicially led if necessary, to clarify and substantiate information that is now in the public domain and, indeed, that which is not”.

Ms Sugden added: “This morning, as Justice Minister, I asked my permanent secretary to investigate allegations made in the media yesterday suggesting that, in the previous mandate, the Department of Justice, amongst others, was informed of the flaws of the scheme.

“I am not suggesting that we table a motion for exclusion of those highlighted in the article, but I will suggest that we have an investigation that takes into account all Departments, Ministers, special advisers, officials and others and defines what knowledge, if any, they had of the flaws of the scheme, what they were aware of through any means, whether they were alerted to concerns about the scheme and whether they acted on that knowledge.”

Former Justice Minister David Ford subsequently told MLAs: “I want to put it on the record that I am absolutely content, having had a discussion with the permanent secretary this morning, that any papers involving my time in the Department of Justice should be released to a judicial-led public inquiry at the earliest possible time.”

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