Belfast Telegraph

DUP made a liar out of me over RHI warning emails, says whistleblower

By Brett Campbell

A whistleblower who raised concerns about the RHI scheme claimed the DUP's Nigel Dodds made her "look like a liar" in attempts to exonerate his party leader Arlene Foster.

Janette O'Hagan, whose Okotech firm specialises in developing energy-efficient heating controls, sent two emails to then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment Minister Mrs Foster in August 2013.

A third email sent to her constituency account outlined more serious concerns about the "blatantly obvious" reasons why Mrs O'Hagan's target clientele had a "distinct lack of interest" in her product.

In the only direct contact between the pair, Mrs Foster invited her to meet DETI civil servants Peter Hutchinson, Joanne McCutcheon and energy boss Fiona Hepper in October 2013. The minister was too busy to attend the meeting herself.

But Mrs O'Hagan said she was left speechless after her repeated warnings about care homes and hotels keeping RHI boilers on "all-year round with the windows open" were dismissed as "anecdotal" evidence.

She said that Mrs McCutcheon responded by saying: "We don't think people will do that."

Sir Patrick Coghlin described the exchange as "par excellence naive".

Mrs O'Hagan said she even told DETI officials that boiler manufacturing and installation firm BS Holdings had produced flyers using the slogan '20 years of free heat' to promote the scheme, but there was "no appetite" for proof.

"A blind man on a galloping horse could have seen it," she said.

"I was surprised people weren't putting radiators on the outside of buildings."

When asked why she didn't participate in a public consultation, Mrs O'Hagan said she thought she had done enough, especially when in June 2014 DETI claimed the issues she raised were "on our radar".

But in December 2016 Mrs O'Hagan was left stunned when a BBC Spotlight programme on the renewable energy scheme featured a leaked copy of the email.

She listened in disbelief as the presenter described it as a "previously unseen email from a whistleblower that was ignored by Arlene Foster's department".

On December 14 her emotions turned to rage after Mr Dodds tweeted one of the emails she had sent to Mrs Foster years earlier.

Mrs O'Hagan said she was furious when the MP claimed it "nails the myth" Mrs Foster failed to follow up on whistleblower concerns.

She branded Mr Dodds' claim that the "only contact she had with the minister" did not raise any concerns about the scheme as "lies" and "a complete disgrace".

Earlier in the inquiry Mrs O'Hagan explained that she had sent a follow-up email to Mrs Foster in which she "added meat to the bones".

"I take great offence at the DUP saying publicly that that email was the only one I sent and I want it publicly retracted - it makes me out as a liar," she said.

The inquiry also heard how the email tweeted by Mr Dodds was obtained by Brendan McCann "under the auspice" of him being a DETI official.

"I received a phone call saying they (the DUP) might want to release it, but I didn't want that," Mrs O'Hagan explained.

"I made it clear that I wanted to remain anonymous - I have a young family and a young business, I was trying to protect both from any adverse impact."

She said the "poorly redacted" document resulted in her feeling "very anxious". She later sent a heated email to the department complaining it had allowed the DUP to brand her a liar and how it failed to protect her identity.

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick said that Mrs O'Hagan felt "understandable resentment" over the email being obtained for "purely political" purposes.

It also emerged yesterday that it had become "custom and practice" for no minutes to be taken in meetings involving Mrs Foster and her officials - a breach of Civil Service guidance.

Belfast Telegraph

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