RHI: “I have nothing to fear,” says Michelle O’Neill

Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O’Neill said she has ‘nothing to fear’ after revelations that when she was Agriculture Minister workshops were organised for farmers interested in the RHI scheme.

Mrs O’Neill was Agriculture minister from the scheme’s inception until it was closed to new applicants last February.

Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O'Neill with party colleagues John O'Dowd and Nuala Toman who are standing in the Upper Bann constituency in the forthcoming Assembly election

Sinn Fein northern leader Michelle O'Neill with party colleagues John O'Dowd and Nuala Toman who are standing in the Upper Bann constituency in the forthcoming Assembly election

She has consistently denied she was aware of how generous the subsidies were.

A report emerged yesterday (Friday) claiming the Agriculture Department organised around 60 workshops ‘for farmers interested in the Renewable Heat Incentive’.

The article said documentary evidence details how several officials from Mrs O’Neill’s department stressed the financial benefits of the scheme.

Party colleague Martin McGuinness resigned earlier this month after a campaign calling for First Minister Arlene Foster to stand aside while a probe into the scheme took place.

A number of politicians have called for Mrs O’Neill to stand aside and not to take a role in the future Executive pending the outcome of the investigation.

However speaking at a press conference in Lurgan to launch Sinn Fein’s Upper Bann candidates today Mrs O’Neill said she had nothing to fear in relation to any probe and described calls for her to stand aside as ‘electioneering’.

Michelle O’Neill said: “I am perfectly relaxed about it. The RHI scandal has been brought about by the DUP. Arlene Foster was the architect of the scheme.

“I was the agriculture minister. I don’t dispute that and farmers applied into the scheme. But at that time, as far as everybody was concerned, it was a perfectly fine scheme but obviously revelations came last February that the scheme was flawed and action was taken by ourselves to stop the scheme.”

When asked about calls for her to step aside as leader of Sinn Fein and not to take Executive posts after the election, Mrs O’Neill said: “I am pretty relaxed about that. That is just electioneering on other parties behalf.

“It is very clear who designed the scheme, who brought the scheme in and who implemented all of it.

“I have nothing to fear,” she said.

Earlier a Sinn Fein spokesman said: “As DETI minister, Arlene Foster was the architect of the botched RHI scheme which was stripped of cost controls, the DUP finance minister Sammy Wilson signed off on the scheme without safeguards on cost, Arlene Foster’s department oversaw the operation of the RHI scheme and there are allegations that the DUP interfered to prevent the closure of a scheme, which could cost the public £500m.” He added:

“The Department of Agriculture had no role or part in the design, management or application of the flawed RHI scheme.

“This flawed scheme is the sole responsibility of DUP ministers.”

“Their dismissal of equality provisions for women, for Irish language speakers, for our LGB&T community and for young people as a ‘shopping list’ shows that their contempt for the public knows no bounds.”