Belfast Telegraph

Ten key extracts from Arlene Foster's speech on heat scheme

By Staff Reporter

1. "Mr Speaker, the one issue on which we can all agree is that there were shocking errors and failures in the RHI scheme and a catalogue of mistakes, all of which coincided to create the perfect storm, resulting in the position in which we now find ourselves.

2. "I entirely accept that I am accountable to the Assembly for the actions of the department during my tenure as minister. I am sorry that the initial scheme did not contain cost-control measures and that there were fundamental flaws in its design. This is the deepest political regret of my time in this house. As minister, I accept responsibility for the work of the department during my time at DETI. Once again, and for avoidance of doubt, I believe it is right and proper that I answer to this Assembly for my role in the RHI scheme."

3. "The BBC Spotlight programme and subsequent comment has made significant play of a concerned citizen, and I would ask the entire Assembly to join me in thanking that person for all she did to try to prevent the calamity that we have fallen into. She deserves our high respect and a sincere apology on behalf of my former department, which should not have dismissed her claims with disbelief, but examined them with diligence. It is no exaggeration to say that had she been listened to on any of the three occasions when she approached DETI, this crisis would have been avoided."

4. "It is now clear that the initial communication to me did not raise any concerns with the RHI scheme, and I understood from Department of the Economy officials who have spoken to the person in question that this was the only correspondence sent directly to me. However, a subsequent email to my private account the following week has now come to light, in which there is a reference to concerns about the scheme."

5. "The Department for the Economy is seeking to establish the facts as to why the warning signals that had been given, not least those from the concerned citizen, were not escalated within the department, and it is important that this work progresses to a conclusion as soon as possible. To sum up, at no time during my period as minister were any recommendations made to me to introduce cost controls, nor were there any warning signs that spending on this scheme was spiralling out of control."

6. "Let there be no doubt, the decision in relation to the amendment of the RHI scheme was a matter for the DETI Minister. The timing of the introduction of cost controls was entirely a matter for him. It has been suggested that my party sought to influence the decision in relation to the timing of the introduction of the cost controls... let me make it absolutely clear, any suggestion that the Enterprise Minister was instructed to delay the changes to the RHI scheme is totally without foundation."

7. "Mr Bell alleged on several occasions that he took action 'immediately' to introduce cost control measures into the scheme and signed off the submission at the most immediate point he could. This is untrue. Today, my colleague, the Minister for the Economy, is placing in the Assembly Library a copy of the submission that was agreed by the former minister. It will show that the minister received a submission on July 8 2015 recommending the introduction of cost control measures. It will also indicate that the original proposal from officials was to introduce cost controls from October 1, 2015 but was amended to November 4 2015 and signed off by the minister on September 3 2015. It is apparent from this document that action was not taken immediately, but after a considerable delay. Mr Bell further claims that 'other SPADs' became involved in the process who were, and I quote, 'not allowing the scheme to close'. The fact remains that the minister signed off on a proposal which was to take effect from November 4 2015. The only further delay to the introduction of cost control measures was as a result of legal and financial issues being resolved by departmental officials and were unconnected to any ministerial decision. The decision was solely for the DETI Minister to take."

8. "The former DETI Minister claims that he made a decision to amend the RHI scheme, but that he was then overruled by special advisors. Since last week, I have specifically investigated this claim. The evidence is clear. The only decision taken by the minister was in early September to amend the scheme in November. The minister was not subsequently overruled by special advisors, and I am clear that whatever representations may have been made by anyone on this issue, it was not being done with the authority of the party."

9. "In discussing the decisions around autumn of 2015, Mr Bell also claims he has a fact that he says reveals the role of special advisors in the scheme staying open. He then refers to a conversation he had with the deputy secretary of the department, claiming his own special advisor had been asked by other special advisors to remove references to Arlene Foster and to the Department of Finance and Personnel. This is the key allegation that documents were amended and is a crucial point. The truth is very different than suggested by Mr Bell."

10. "I also want to make it clear that I support the need for an independent investigation, free from partisan political interference, to establish the facts around the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. I believe that the conclusions of any investigation must be made public and that any investigation must be conducted speedily to assist in the process of building public confidence."

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