Northern Ireland

RHI dominates first televised leaders' debate

The leaders of Northern Ireland's main political parties, from left to right, Mike Nesbitt, Michelle O'Neill, Arlene Foster, Naomi Long and Colum Eastwood Image copyright UTV
Image caption The leaders of Northern Ireland's main political parties, from left to right, Mike Nesbitt, Michelle O'Neill, Arlene Foster, Naomi Long and Colum Eastwood

The fallout from the botched Renewable Heating Scheme (RHI) has dominated the first televised leaders' debate in the assembly election campaign.

The five main party leaders, Arlene Foster, Michelle O'Neill, Naomi Long, Colum Eastwood and Mike Nesbitt all took part in the debate on UTV.

They clashed over the decision by the Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt to give his number two preference vote to the SDLP.

The leaders also disagreed on Brexit.

The Alliance leader Naomi Long labelled the Ulster Unionist party "the Lothario of Northern Ireland politics as it's hopped in and out of bed with almost every other political party".

Colum Eastwood later said: "We have waited a long time for cross community voting, it doesn't make me any less of a nationalist and it doesn't make Mike Nesbitt any less of a unionist."

'Gerry Adams' Sinn Féin'

The DUP leader Arlene Foster was accused of using the politics of fear after she warned voters about "Gerry Adams' Sinn Fein" returning with most seats.

"This election will be very close and there is a real chance Gerry Adams' Sinn Féin could have most seats.

"Then they could push ahead with their radical agenda and imagine what that would mean for Northern Ireland," she said.

Standing beside the DUP leader, Sinn Fein's northern leader, Michelle O'Neill, accused Arlene Foster's party of showing "arrogance and contempt" for the institutions.

"Sinn Féin didn't seek this election but it is needed because of DUP arrogance, contempt and serious allegations of corruption surrounding their RHI scandal," she added.

'Broken politics'

The Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said: "This election should be a referendum on how the two parties of the executive have handled the ongoing crisis over renewable heat and their leadership over the past ten years."

"With £85,000 a day still needlessly going up in smoke I don't think voters can afford another DUP/Sinn Fein executive."

The Alliance leader Naomi Long said it was time to transform "broken politics".

"It is time to take a stand against scandal, to say enough is enough to orange and green.

"No more corruption, no more cronyism, no more incompetence, just good government," she added.