Belfast Telegraph

'I had just met Walter Mitty in the flesh': Ian Paisley gives RHI evidence

By Michael Sheils McNamee

Ian Paisley has described an encounter with former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell as 'meeting Walter Mitty in the flesh' in written evidence submitted to the RHI Inquiry.

In the document, posted to the RHI Inquiry website on Friday, North Antrim MP Ian Paisley was asked about any discussion he had with Mr Bell "in or around December 2016", in which Mr Bell's interview with Stephen Nolan about the RHI scheme had been discussed.

Mr Paisley is asked to detail whether or not the discussion had taken place, if anyone was present at the time, and "what was said by you and by Minister Bell; and the outcome of the discussion, if any".

In his response, Mr Paisley dismisses any suggestion Mr Bell had discussed a possible Nolan Show appearance with him, but gives a candid account of a phone call he had with him in early December.

Saying he had known the former Enterprise Minister "since university days", Mr Paisley says he spoke to Mr Bell between December 7 and December 9 by telephone, in Parliament Buildings and at Mr Bell's home.

"He was quite troubled and concerned about his future because of the RHI scheme and appeared that he wanted a shoulder to cry but he did not reveal to me any plan to speak publicly in the way he subsequently did," Mr Paisley said in his evidence.

"The discussion from memory was rambling and long it was over a late night cup of tea, I vaguely recall one of his children being there for part of the discussion so the conversation was quite casual."

Mr Paisley said he listened to his DUP colleague "out of interest and at times amusement" as Mr Bell "outpoured his incredible view of his place in the Government".

He says that Mr Bell spoke about possibly taking legal action, and quoted Ian Paisley's father - the late Ian Paisley, founder of the DUP - and "reminisced heavily" about a Bible verse he felt was appropriate.

"It was a long and bizarre and rambling conversation," said Mr Paisley.

"He spent time slagging off Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, Maurice Morrow and most other people in the DUP leaving me to think if I wasn't there he would be slagging me off to whoever cared to listen.

"He then had a number of grievances which appeared equally bizarre against Timothy Johnston, John Robinson, Andrew Crawford and Timothy Cairns who he claimed all had their hand in the RHI scandal and that some were making vast amounts of money out of it and that he had a map that proved where all of the schemes had opened up during the critical period all of which happened to be in the back yard area of Timothy Johnston and John Robinson.

Mr Paisley described the scenario as "quite sad" but said the two "parted on good terms".

He recalled: "I was aware I had just met Walter Mitty in the flesh and I believe Jonathan Bell believed he had met someone who would support his assertions. Only one of us was correct."

In September Mr Paisley was suspended from Parliament for failing to declare two holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government and then lobbying on its behalf.

Oral evidence to the RHI Inquiry concluded on Friday.

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