Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster has accused her critics of misogynism after they made calls for her to resign over a botched scheme she oversaw as Enterprise Minister cost the taxpayer an additional £1bn.
The Renewable Heat Initiative Scheme, which Foster oversaw, promoted the burning of wood pellet fuel and similar renewables to create heat. The scheme was initially budgeted at £25m, and in its first year underspent by £15m.
Uptake then massively increased, and the scheme could not cope with demand. £1 billion of public money has been committed for spending on this – £600m from the Treasury, and £400m for Northern Ireland to find in their block grant over the next 20 years.
Of the calls to resign, Foster said:
“There’s a lot of it personal. There’s a lot of it, sadly, misogynistic as well, because I’m a female, the first female leader of Northern Ireland.
“I’ve come through a lot worse than venomous attacks from my political opponents and I intend to continue to lead.
“It’s no secret that during my childhood, the IRA tried to murder my father. It’s no secret that in the past the IRA put a bomb on my school bus.
“So do I really think that I’m going to step aside at the behest of Sinn Féin? No I’m not.”
Nicola Mallon of the republican Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) said,
“This has absolutely nothing to do with Arlene Foster being a woman or being a unionist.
“This is about incompetence, with possible corruption and with unquestionable arrogance from the minister at the heart of it all – Arlene Foster.”
Naomi Long, leader of the Alliance Party said,
“[It does women a disservice to] play the sexism and misogyny card when that is not the issue at stake.
“To suggest that wanting to hold women to the same level of accountability as their male counterparts is in some way sexist or misogynistic is a nonsense…
“In fact, to hold them to a lesser standard would be sexism and misogyny.”