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Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2017

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:45 pm on 23rd January 2017.

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Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP 4:45 pm, 23rd January 2017

A school principal, maybe. This is a major issue that has adversely affected public confidence in the institutions of the Assembly and the Executive. It would be wrong to seek to deny or minimise the fact that that is the case. This is not a situation that any of us who ran in the Assembly election for the first time not seven months ago would have envisaged that we would have to deal with. It is not a situation that, I suspect, even some of the auld hands who have been in this place from the start ever envisaged that they would have to deal with. However, we are where we are. It is incumbent on us all, as responsible public representatives, where a problem has been identified, to do all in our power to ensure that the situation is corrected and put right.

I have sat through most of this debate, and, to be fair, it has been tempered and reasonable. Members from all sides have made reasonable and tempered contributions, and it has been conducted in a spirit of trying to put the problem right and of trying to fix the situation. Indeed, if that had been the tone of the discussion throughout, we might well be closer to a solution to the problem. Alas, that is not the way that it has worked out.

Steps are needed to put the matter right and to improve this situation. That is why I welcome the proposals brought to the House by the Minister. Other Members commented, and I absolutely agree with them, that we are not in an ideal situation to provide a level of scrutiny or review of the Minister's proposals. That is not of the making of anyone in the House bar one party, which decided that it would rather crash the institutions than deal with the problem. That is that party's entitlement, but, if we are being elected to talks, one of the things that I want on the agenda is an end to the situation whereby one party walking away from this place can bring it crashing down. If people want substantive talks, I am all on for that because never again can the democratic institutions of Northern Ireland be threatened by one party walking away as it has. We are not, because of that, in the position to offer the fullest scrutiny of the Minister's proposals. That is regrettable. I would have welcomed the fullest possible scrutiny of his proposals. I welcome the fact that cost controls are being introduced into the scheme. I think that all Members agree that that is necessary.

I have reviewed the evidence that was presented to the Public Accounts Committee, and I urge all Members to study it in full, particularly the evidence concerning the role played by Mrs Arlene Foster the former First Minister. I urge all Members to read that.

I welcome the fact that these measures have been brought forward, and I welcome the fact that, as someone else said during the debate, they have been described as defensible and viable proposals. It is important that whatever comes forward cannot be simply seen, as has been suggested, as a stopgap solution. It is important that we have defensible and viable solutions to the problem that confronts us.

I have been an Assembly Member for a short time, and this has been an inglorious end to a brief term of devolution. There is no point in seeking to deny that. Those of us who were elected here for the first time — there are some of us in all parties — did not envisage that it would come to this. However, the mark of a responsible politician and the mark of a sensible public representative is that, when a problem presents itself, they seek to find a solution. The fact that the Minister has found a solution, or has at least put forward ideas, is to be welcomed. It stands in stark contrast to others who serve in the Northern Ireland Executive but who, frankly, would rather give press conferences in the Great Hall than come to the House with positive solutions or positive ideas. That speaks to what their agenda really is.