Belfast Telegraph

DUP special adviser says dad-in-law in RHI scheme

Aide to Economy Minister responds over Bell as claimant hotspots are revealed, while republicans hit back at MLA's 'ludicrous' allegations surrounding St Andrews Agreement

By David Young, PA

A DUP adviser at the centre of the 'cash for ash' controversy has said his father-in-law runs two green boilers under the Renewable Heat Incentive.

John Robinson - who is a special adviser to DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton - had been accused by suspended DUP MLA Jonathan Bell of blocking cost controls on the botched RHI scheme.

Mr Robinson insisted his poultry farmer father-in-law signed up to the green grants scheme before he married his daughter, and stressed he had never advised anyone to join the State-subsidised initiative.

Mr Robinson, who was previously the DUP's director of communications, said neither he nor his wife had any direct involvement with the business or RHI.

He said his father-in-law joined the scheme before he started to work directly with Mr Hamilton.

On Monday Mr Bell used Assembly privilege to claim he was thwarted in his efforts to clamp down on the multi-million pound RHI overspend because two DUP special advisers "have such extensive interests in the poultry industry".

Mr Bell, himself a former DUP Economy Minister, named Mr Robinson and fellow DUP special adviser Timothy Johnston.

In response, the DUP branded Mr Bell's allegations as "outrageous, untrue and unfounded mud-slinging".

A party statement on Monday said: "Timothy Johnston has no interests whatsoever in the poultry industry and does not benefit or have any family members who applied to or benefit from RHI.

"John Robinson has no personal interest in the poultry industry. His family home farm has chicken houses but are not part of the RHI scheme and never have been recipients or applicants."

Yesterday, Mr Robinson said his father-in-law was part of the RHI scheme.

"I have never had any personal financial interest in the RHI scheme," he said. "At no point have I ever advised anyone to join the scheme or sought to benefit in any way from it.

"I have two brothers who are poultry farmers. They are not part of the scheme nor did they apply to the scheme.

"My father-in-law purchased two 36KW boilers for his poultry business in May 2015, they were installed in July 2015 and he applied to the scheme on August 3, 2015. This was before I was married in October 2015. At no time did we discuss any aspect of the scheme nor was I aware of his application to the scheme.

"Neither my wife nor I have ever had any role in the business nor have we received any benefit, financial or otherwise, from the business. I was appointed as an adviser in the Department for the Economy in June 2016. I was not involved in any aspect of the RHI scheme prior to taking up the post."

Yesterday, outgoing First Minister Arlene Foster was asked by the Impartial Reporter in Enniskillen if she had specifically encouraged people in her own constituency to avail of the scheme.

"As regards the geographical spread of the scheme not one person, not one person came into my office nor did I advise one person in relation to the scheme in the Fermanagh-south Tyrone area," she said.

"I can categorically stand over the fact that I didn't advise one single person or one single business to take up the RHI scheme."

Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Party MLA Steve Aiken has referred the RHI scheme to the police after the Assembly heard relevant boilers were producing profits for more than 80% of their owners.

Yesterday the Stephen Nolan show revealed a breakdown of the locations of RHI firms by postcode - 1,014 are commercial, 871 are agricultural or poultry industries and 243 are farms.

There is nothing to suggest any of the businesses did anything wrong.

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