Belfast Telegraph

Department releases Bell's 'critical' email

By Staff Reporter

An email that suspended DUP MLA Jonathan Bell described as “critical” to the Renewable Heating Incentive (RHI) scandal and demanded be published has been released.

The former Enterprise Minister called for the January 2016 email addressed to the head of the Civil Service from his then permanent secretary Andrew McCormick to be made public.

The Department for the Economy has now released it.

In it Mr McCormick outlines how issues over RHI came to his attention and details the reviews instigated to investigate potential fraud or abuse of the scheme “when the issue came to attention in June/July 2015”. But the message additionally reveals there were delays in making changes to the initiative.

Mr McCormick also discusses a spike in applications that came six weeks before changes to the scheme were introduced, explaining that this was something he could not have predicted.

He writes: “There were delays in introducing the reduction in entitlements in the autumn, as there was some initial reluctance to make the necessary legislative changes (any change to the scheme requires the affirmative approval of the Assembly).

“With hindsight, I might have sought a ministerial direction at an earlier stage. However, the spike in demand prior to the November legislation to tighten tariff controls was beyond reasonable prediction.

“It was only at this stage... that scheme closure became the only realistic option.”

Mr Bell has claimed his decision to change the scheme was overruled by special advisers from First Minister Arlene Foster’s office.

However, Mrs Foster has denied applying pressure to keep the scheme open, also insisting that no one from her party acted to delay its closure.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, the First Minister said: “I have checked and confirmed that no minister made any such request or took any interest in the decision taken in September 2015.

“The DUP party officers took no interest in this issue and gave no instructions.

“It is therefore clear that whatever the belief, the DUP did not ask the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister to extend the scheme.”

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