Day where not a single DUP figure comes to Bell’s aid

No DUP member yesterday came forward to publicly back Jonathan Bell, as he cut an isolated figure within the party.

Even before the interview was broadcast, Arlene Foster had warned of the potential for action against her party colleague and yesterday the DUP moved to emphasise that disciplinary action is on the cards.

A DUP spokesman said that “the party officers will be meeting soon to discuss issues, including appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against Jonathan Bell”.

Mr Bell, a former Ulster Unionist, yesterday said nothing further and simply tweeted last night: “No further comment will be made by me at this stage – all matters have been placed in the hands of my lawyer Paul Tweed, Johnsons Law, Belfast”.

It is not clear whether Mr Bell will be in the Assembly chamber for Monday’s emergency debate on Mrs Foster’s role in the scandal nor whether, if he is, he will be afforded the chance to speak.

Both Mr Bell and Mrs Foster will be able to speak in the chamber without any fear of defamation proceedings, given the absolute privilege which MLAs enjoy for comments made during Stormont proceedings.

Mrs Foster is expected to set out in further detail just how she plans to limit the losses to taxpayers as a result of the RHI scheme running out of control.

Government lawyers have been poring over the issue in an attempt to find ways in which to lawfully limit the losses to the public purse.

The Speaker has set aside 88 minutes for Arlene Foster’s Monday Assembly statement on the RHI scandal & MLAs’ response.

That will then be followed by the SDLP motion – which has been supported by UUP, Alliance, Green, TUV and People Before Profit MLAs – which seeks to exclude Mrs Foster from office for six months while an investigation is undertaken.

It is not clear how long will be allowed for that second debate.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who will lead the debate, said: “Parties across the Assembly, led by the SDLP, are taking a stand for the highest standard of scrutiny and accountability following allegations of very serious wrongdoing relating to the biggest public finance scandal in the history of devolution.”