Sam McBride: SF move stops cap on RHI costs or an inquiry

Wood pellets used in the RHI scheme
Wood pellets used in the RHI scheme

One immediate consequence of Martin McGuinness’s resignation is that the RHI scandal will not be addressed in the short term.

As a direct result of Sinn Fein’s move, it is now not possible for the Assembly to pass emergency legislation – which would take at least 10 days to pass through the Assembly – to curb the cost of the out of control scheme.

And an inquiry on the terms outlined by Sinn Fein also cannot be set up, because it would require primary legislation.

Sinn Fein vigorously opposed holding a full public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005. However, to give its inquiry even basic teeth, such as the power to compel witnesses and documents, it therefore will require Assembly legislation to do so, which will be impossible prior to the formation of a new Assembly and Executive in March –if that even happens then.

Mr McGuinness’s decision actually came on the very day when Mrs Foster ended her opposition to calling a full public inquiry into the scandal.

Yesterday morning Mrs Foster made clear that she “could live with” an inquiry under the powerful Inquiries Act 2005, even though she would not prefer that to be used.

That meant that Sinn Fein could yesterday have secured a major concession from the DUP and announced the most rigorous inquiry possible into the RHI debacle.

Instead, Sinn Fein has chosen to take out Mrs Foster as First Minister and significantly escalate this into a wider political crisis.