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RHI: DUP Economy Minister Hamilton refusing to say why he can't name names

By Claire O’Boyle

The Economy Minister has refused to publish legal advice warning him against releasing the names of Renewable Heat Incentive recipients.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood had asked Simon Hamilton to disclose the crucial legal opinion last month.

But the Minister has now declined, saying it is "considered to be legal professional privilege" and therefore cannot be released.

Last night the SDLP's Claire Hanna said until the guidance was made public, there could be no transparency.

"This is a strange decision," said the South Belfast MLA.

"There are obviously legitimate subscribers to this scheme, and this isn't a witch hunt, but it wouldn't be abnormal for businesses which benefit from government schemes to have their names disclosed.

"For example, every farmer who receives support from the Common Agricultural Policy has their name in the public domain.

"What's different here?

"If there is legal advice on this matter, I can't understand why that itself can't be published as a very first step.

"There are a very many legitimate subscribers to the scheme, and they have nothing to fear from transparency."

In a statement, the Information Commissioner's Office said there were times when personal details could be made public.

The ICO is an independent UK-wide body that deals with data protection legislation issues.

An ICO spokesperson said: "The Data Protection Act does not prevent the publication of personal information providing there is a fair and legitimate reason for doing so.

"Public bodies must consider the need for transparency around the use of public funds and whether it would be in the public interest to publish the information."

by claire o'boyle

Belfast Telegraph

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