RHI scandal: Independent panel would probe scheme under Sinn Fein plan

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will step down at 5pm today (Monday)
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness will step down at 5pm today (Monday)

Under Sinn Fein’s plan for an investigation into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal an independent panel led by a judicial figure from outside Northern Ireland would be established.

Northern Ireland’s Attorney General John Larkin would appoint the chair.

It is envisaged the panel would include experts in accountancy, renewable energy and the workings of the civil service.

Legislation would be required to confer powers to compel witnesses and subpoena papers.

While this could theoretically be done in 10 days through accelerated passage in the Assembly, a more realistic time frame would be four weeks.

Sinn Fein want the panel to produce a preliminary report within four weeks of it commencing its work, with a final report within three months.

The republican party want Arlene Foster to step aside during the period prior to the preliminary report being completed.

However, the DUP leader has made clear she will not stand down for even a day, so the Sinn Fein proposal is unlikely to be implemented.

Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt and Alliance Party leader Naomi Long have said Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin should not be asked to appoint the chair.

Mr Nesbitt said that as Mr Larkin had been appointed by the First and Deputy First Ministers, somebody not accountable to them should appoint the chair. He suggested that person should be Northern Ireland’s Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan.

Mrs Long said it would not be appropriate for the Attorney General to appoint the chair.

“The Attorney General is a barrister, not a judge. He can’t appoint anyone senior to him. He is not in charge of the judiciary,” she said.

Mrs Long added that she could not understand why Sinn Fein “cannot bring themselves to call for a full public inquiry”.