Belfast Telegraph

How RHI 'scandal' sparked a row that brought down the Assembly

Jonathan Bell
Jonathan Bell

November 2012: An initiative to reduce Northern Ireland's carbon emissions called the Renewable Heating Incentive is announced by then Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster. It financially supports businesses, public sector and other non-domestic organisations to meet the cost of more environmentally-friendly technologies. Eligible applicants will be entitled to help for 20 years.

Autumn 2013: A whistleblower contacts Mrs Foster and asks for a meeting to raise concerns.

January 2015: A formal re-approval of the scheme due from the Department of Finance is overlooked as a result of a "combination of staff changes and an administrative oversight". Meanwhile, RHI applications rise.

february: It is claimed RHI will overspend by at least £460m over a 20-year period. Mrs Foster's successor as Enterprise Minister, Jonathan Bell, announces his intention to close RHI to new applications. Internal investigation into scheme gets under way.

july: In a damning report the Audit Office says "serious systemic failings" in the scheme will cost the NI budget hundreds of millions. It reveals a farmer will make £1m for heating an empty shed.

october: Stormont's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) call the mishandling of the RHI scheme "one of the biggest scandals" since devolution.

november: With the realisation the funding available for applicants is uncapped, Stormont tightens the rules. But a massive late surge of 900 applications is received before changes can be made. The PAC is told that a £405m hole will have to be plugged over the 20-year lifetime of the RHI.

december 15: In an extraordinary TV interview, Mr Bell claims advisers attempted to remove Arlene Foster's name from documents linked to RHI while two senior special advisers "were not allowing this scheme to be closed" as costs began to spiral out of control.

Mrs Foster responds by saying that if papers were altered "it wasn't on my say-so" and DUP special advisers Timothy Johnston and Andrew Crawford say they never sought to keep the RHI scheme open against the wishes of the minister.

december 16: Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness calls for the DUP leader to stand aside from her role as First Minister.

Who's who at the RHI Inquiry: Chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin (centre) is charged with unravelling how the botched green energy scheme exposed the public to such a huge potential overspend. He is pictured with Dame Una O'Brien who was Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health (DH) in London from 2010 to 2016, and Keith MacLean who worked in the energy industry for 20 years and advised government on policy. He was Policy and Research Director at SSE.
Who's who at the RHI Inquiry: Chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin (centre) is charged with unravelling how the botched green energy scheme exposed the public to such a huge potential overspend. He is pictured with Dame Una O'Brien who was Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health (DH) in London from 2010 to 2016, and Keith MacLean who worked in the energy industry for 20 years and advised government on policy. He was Policy and Research Director at SSE.
ARLENE FOSTER DUP leader and former First Minister. Minister at Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) when the RHI scheme began in 2012. Subsidy tariffs were set too high without a cap, leading to costs spiralling out of control. She described it as her "deepest political regret", but denies claims by Jonathan Bell, her former party colleague and successor as Enterprise Minister, that she ordered him to keep the scheme open.
Timothy Johnston After being a special adviser to Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, Mr Johnston became a Spad to Arlene Foster when she took on the role of First Minister in January 2016. He was accused by Mr Bell of not allowing the RHI scheme to close in early autumn 2015, but he has rejected that allegation. Following the collapse of the Stormont Executive over the RHI scandal in early 2017, he became chief executive of the DUP.
JONATHAN BELL Succeeded Arlene Foster as Deti minister in May 2015, until May 2016, when RHI costs became a problem. The former DUP Strangford MLA alleged two DUP special advisers (Spads) - Timothy Johnston and Andrew Crawford - intervened to delay the start of cost controls in autumn 2015 - a period when there was a spike in applications to the scheme. He claimed Mrs Foster "overruled" his bid to close the botched scheme in early 2016.
TIMOTHY CAIRNS A former barrister, he was Mr Bell's special adviser at Deti. Mr Bell alleged that Mr Cairns told him that other DUP Spads were not allowing the RHI scheme to be closed in September 2015. Mr Bell said that he believed Mr Cairns saw himself as working for the other Spads and not for him as minister. But Mr Cairns has accused Mr Bell of bullying, swinging a punch at him and trying to break his finger - claims Mr Bell denies.
ANDREW CRAWFORD Spad to Mrs Foster in Deti when RHI was introduced. Quit role in January 2017 after Mr McCormick told a Stormont committee he understood Mr Crawford was exerting influence to keep the scheme's high tariff level. He denied the claim and any wrongdoing. At the RHI Inquiry, he accepted it was "inappropriate" to have shared RHI cost-control plans with family before they were introduced. Now a part-time DUP adviser.
ANDREW MCCORMICK Became permanent secretary at Deti in 2014 and was in post when the RHI scheme's massive overspend became clear. Mr McCormick told the RHI Inquiry that Mr Cairns told him Timothy Johnston, another DUP Spad, was involved in the decision to delay cost controls. In January, it was announced Mr McCormick was being appointed as director-general of international relations for Brexit in the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive.
DAVID STERLING As interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, he is effectively the man in charge of running Stormont departments in the absence of devolved government. He was the lead civil servant in Deti when it introduced the flawed RHI scheme in 2012. Mr Bell alleged to the RHI Inquiry that Mr Sterling feared the energy scheme controversy would cost him his chance to become the head of the Civil Service.
CHRIS STEWART Jonathan Bell claimed Chris Stewart, Deti deputy permanent secretary, sought a meeting to blow the whistle on a bid by DUP advisers to remove Mrs Foster's name from RHI documents. Mr Bell said Stewart would back this at an inquiry, but Stewart said he "did not seek a meeting as a whistleblower". He acknowledged a DUP adviser changed the wording of a Deti document, but that Mr Bell later "advised that he had dealt with the matter".
STUART WIGHTMAN A former official at Deti who was responsible for running the RHI scheme in its final weeks. Mr Wightman told the inquiry he directed a colleague to inform poultry producer Moy Park and other interested parties of changes to cost controls as a "courtesy". He also alerted boiler firms and the Ulster Farmers' Union to the delay in cost controls before DUP minister Jonathan Bell had even been asked to approve the proposal.
JANETTE O’HAGAN Ms O'Hagan was selling a heat efficiency product in 2013, but found potential clients were not interested, especially when they had signed up to the RHI scheme. She raised concerns about the scheme with the then-Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster. She told the inquiry she would do the same thing if the RHI debacle happened again, despite unwillingly becoming the centre of a political and media storm.

january 4, 2017: Arlene Foster again insists she will not stand down over the RHI scandal and says some calls for her to do so are "misogynistic".

january 9: Martin McGuinness announces his resignation as deputy First Minister in protest at Mrs Foster's refusal to step aside during an investigation into the RHI.

april 2018: Mrs Foster admits to the RHI Inquiry that she didn't read the legislation which set up RHI. She feels she doesn't bear personal responsibility for the scheme, even though it was set up on her watch as a minister.

September 7: Mr Bell claims that he was bullied into keeping RHI open by Mrs Foster and says he was the victim of a DUP smear campaign.

september 10: Mr Bell's former special adviser claims the minister got so drunk in a New York pub he was asked to leave. He says that it was DUP policy to introduce RHI cost controls as late as possible. He claims that senior DUP spad Timothy Johnston wielded power over elected politicians.

suzanne breen

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