Belfast Telegraph

Sammy Wilson attacks BBC 'bias' over RHI coverage and defends DUP election 'fact sheet'

'BBC gave every Tom, Dick and Harry and Sean, Mick and Barry an opportunity to have a go'

By Jonathan Bell

The DUP's Sammy Wilson has launched an attack on the BBC and defended his party's distribution of a leaflet of "facts" around the botched Renewable Heating Incentive scheme.

The East Antrim MP said that there was not the same reporting after it was revealed that the Department of Agricultural promoted the RHI scheme when Michelle O'Neill was minister.

Mrs O'Neill has said she was unaware of how costly the botched scheme was until February last year and that the scandal was “entirely of the DUP’s making” and she was not answerable "in any way" over the matter.

The BBC defended its journalism saying RHI coverage "was based on the BBC’s core editorial principles of fairness, accuracy and impartiality".

More: Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill in firing line over RHI as role of her department in hyping faulty scheme revealed

Speaking on Monday's Stephen Nolan Radio Ulster show, Sammy Wilson accused the BBC and others of bias against his party and Arlene Foster in their coverage.

"Maybe [Michelle O'Neill] was unaware of the flaws in the scheme, maybe theses things did pass her by.

"But had a DUP person said that there would have been immediate calls from the BBC for public inquiry, that she should be part of the inquiry and that she should give answers to these questions.

"Not a squeak, not a cheep from the BBC.

"All I am saying is when Arlene Foster promoted the scheme and was writing letters to the bank to encourage them to lend money, this was some kind of scandal."

Mr Wilson said that it was "not wrong" for Michelle O'Neill's department to promote the scheme but if the department was aware of the flaws in the scheme while encouraging people on to it then "all the criticisms directed at Arlene Foster should be equally directed at Michelle O'Neill".

"But the BBC have given her a by-ball again and this illustrates how this was all about the DUP.

"There are questions about Arlene Foster but none of Michelle O'Neill. Why are BBC not asking for questions of her?

He added: "It was hysterically stirred up and the venom was directed at Arlene Foster

"And the BBC gave every Tom, Dick and Harry and Sean Mick and Barry an opportunity to have a go at the DUP over this. It was a scheme which was flawed."

Mr Wilson also repeated his claim that the scheme in other parts of the UK were also flawed.

When it was put to Mr Wilson that his statement was untrue, the MP responded: "For you to say there was increases in a scheme that was initiallydesigned to cost £400m to make electricity instead of using coal to use wood pellet burners that it goes up from £400m to one thousand million pounds per year and that shows there is cost controls

"Catch yourself on."

Mr Wilson was also asked about a DUP leaflet titled "The Facts" distributed to the public ahead of the election. In it it says RHI costs have been capped, there will be no overspend in the scheme and all recipients of the business scheme will be named.

This is despite the DUP Economy Minister Simon Hamilton telling the Assembly there would be a £2m overspend for next year in the scheme and a court imposing a temporary ban on the naming of those on the scheme.

The DUP veteran denied the leaflet was misleading.

"This is an attempt to put some balance into the whole issue because we are not getting that from the BBC and other media," he said.

"The media have facilitated our enemies in putting out the information."

He added: "Simon Hamilton has introduced regulation which are doing away with the higher subsidy than then cost of the pellets. Because the scheme has to be tapered in that there will be a period before all the inspections take place.

"The scheme is designed to ensure that all the source of the overspend is eliminated. However, with all of these things you can not turn the tap off overnight.

"The costs have been capped, there will be no future overspend."

On the matter of the naming of those on the scheme, Mr Wilson added: "We have given a commitment, we are quite happy for recipients to be named.

"But it is like any action of government - Donald Trump is doing the same in America. He is signing executive orders but all of these things can be subject to judicial review.

"What the leaflet is stating is that it is our intention to publish the names.

"And if the courts stand in the way of that, then we can't deliver on it."

A BBC spokeswoman responded: “We remain satisfied that the design, operation and potential cost of the RHI scheme raised issues of legitimate public interest.

"Our role has been to report, investigate and facilitate debate about what happened. We have reflected different opinions and given BBC audiences the opportunity to make their views known.

"Everything that we have done has been based on the BBC’s core editorial principles of fairness, accuracy and impartiality.  These principles and the professionalism of our staff will continue to guide our coverage of the RHI story.”

Sinn Fein was also asked for a response.

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