Arlene Foster has defended her credibility in the wake of the renewable heat scandal, and said that senior colleague Jonathan Bell has “stepped outside” the party’s boundaries by giving an interview on the subject.
The First Minister was speaking to Rodney Edwards of Fermanagh newspaper the Impartial Reporter on Thursday morning, as the row over the costly Renewable Heat Incentives scheme continued unabated.
Earlier in the morning, the Nolan Show had aired an excerpt of an interview with Mr Bell – formerly the Province’s energy minister, and also formerly a minister in the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
In the clip (which will be expanded upon on Thursday evening when a full interview will be broadcast on BBC1 at 10.40pm), Mr Bell had said both God and his wife had instructed him to tell “the truth” about the scandal – even though there would be ramifications for his career.
Asked about Mr Bell’s assertion that the truth will come out on this issue, Mrs Foster said: “The truth will come out. You know as much about Jonathan Bell as I do but I am very much looking forward to the truth coming out because I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
As to whether she is concerned about what he has to say, she said: “No. Not at all. As I said, you know as much about what he has to say as I do.”
When asked if she thinks Bell’s career is over, she said: “I think he has stepped outside of party lines.
“He has not communicated with me in any way recently.
“It will be a matter now for the party officers as to which action they take.”
A number of other questions were also put to her over the RHI scheme, including why she is refusing to resign.
“I’ve said that a mark of a politician is not in good times but in challenges,” she said.
“Obviously there are challenges ahead and we need to deal with those challenges.
“On Monday of next week I’ll be setting out a plan as to how we are going to move forward in relation to these matters, setting out a plan to deal with cost controls... setting out other matters as well.
“It will be quite a significant statement and I’m looking forward to being able to be in the Assembly and to have questions which I can then answer. “Unfortunately, to date, there has been about 10 per cent fact and 90 per cent spin in relation to this story.
“It’s important that the facts get out there and I’m looking forward to doing that on Monday.”
Asked if she believed her credibility was in tatters, she replied: “No. I would expect political opponents to try and use what is a serious situation to try and play party politics but I’ll not be doing that.
“I’ll be looking for solutions and to bring forward my plan.
“I am charged with leading this country. I’m charged with finding solutions to difficult problems and that’s where my focus is.”