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RHI Inquiry chair promises 'fearless' examination of evidence without interference

By Rebecca Black

The chairman of a probe into the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal has vowed his team will "fearlessly examine the evidence without interference from any quarter".

Sir Patrick Coghlin gave the assurance at the Long Gallery at Stormont on Thursday morning as the first public hearing of the RHI Inquiry took place.

He introduced members of his inquiry team, including senior counsel David Scoffield QC and renewable heating expert Dr Keith MacLean.

Sir Patrick said the inquiry has already gathered "a very significant amount of evidence" amounting to thousands of pages, adding he expects they will have hundreds of thousands of pages as the investigation proceeds.

He has assured that there will be a "detailed and intensive" investigation.

"I want to assure members of the public in Northern Ireland that this inquiry will fearlessly examine the evidence relating to the RHI Scheme; and that it will do so without interference from any quarter in order to establish the facts about the scheme and those connected to it."

There had previously been speculation that the inquiry will last for six months, however Sir Patrick said there is no time limit on it.

He said public hearings are due to start at the Senate chamber at Stormont in early Autumn, adding that it will provide another update in June.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt and TUV leader Jim Allister were among those in attendance at the opening statement.

Read more: RHI Inquiry: Opening statement by Sir Patrick Coghlin at preliminary hearing

The RHI inquiry was set up after it emerged the ill-fated green energy scheme had left the Stormont executive facing a potential overspend bill of £490 million.

Former DUP first minister Arlene Foster established the scheme in 2012 when she was enterprise minister.

Flaws in its design meant recipients were able to earn more in state subsidies than it actually cost to run their eco-boilers.

When the "cash for ash" crisis flared during the winter, the late former Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness asked Mrs Foster to stand aside.

When she refused, he resigned and collapsed Stormont's power-sharing institutions.

A new coalition government has still not been formed two months on from the subsequent snap Assembly election in March.

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