Belfast Telegraph

Jonathan Bell: I was disparaged and demonised just for telling the truth about my role in RHI scandal

Jonathan Bell
Jonathan Bell
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell has said he has been "disparaged and demonised" for telling the truth about his role in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) financial scandal.

Mr Bell, under whose watch the 'cash for ash' scheme had to be closed down, claimed there was nothing he could have done to bring about a more speedy tariff reduction and closure of the botched green energy scheme.

In closing submissions, published on the RHI Inquiry website last night, Mr Bell said all of his attempts to do so "were hampered by the interference and manipulation of the (DUP) Special Advisors".

The former DUP MLA was the minister at the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment (Deti), which oversaw the RHI scheme, from 2015 to 2016.

When he appeared before the RHI Inquiry in September, Mr Bell made a series of explosive claims into why the scheme costs spiralled during his tenure.

He blamed the DUP for "fitting him up" and his former special adviser, Timothy Cairns, and officials for not making him aware of what was happening. He also claimed that David Gordon, who previously headed communications in the Executive Office, briefed against him, describing him as a "monster who had to be put to sleep".

Mr Bell signed a directive in January 2016 to close the scheme. The inquiry has heard that DUP special adviser, Timothy Johnston, "rescinded" his decision.

In his evidence to the panel, Mr Bell said he sacrificed his political career to stop the RHI overspend. He also claimed his party leader, Arlene Foster, "created a paper trail" calling for the scheme to be closed, but verbally, she and DUP special advisers pushed for it to be kept open.

It was Mr Bell's bombshell interview with the BBC's Stephen Nolan in December 2016 which thrust the RHI issue into the spotlight. In his closing statement, released last night, his legal representatives said: "Mr Bell's decision to reveal the truth of these matters to the media was motivated by two objectives.

"Firstly, to ensure that the costs of the scheme would be reduced and that money would be returned to the public purse for essential public services and secondly, to ensure via a call for a public inquiry that such an episode could ever happen again.

"At considerable personal and professional cost, he revealed what he knew and called for this public inquiry. For telling the truth he has been disparaged and demonised.

"The inquiry has revealed the truth of what occurred.

"The truth is that there is nothing that Mr Bell could have done to bring about a more speedy tariff reduction and closure of this scheme.

"All of his attempts were hampered by the interference and manipulation of the Special Advisors."

In his previous evidence, Mr Cairns claimed that while on a Deti trip in January 2016, Mr Bell was so drunk that he fell asleep in a New York bar and was asked to leave.

Meanwhile, Mrs Foster accused Mr Bell of pressing "the nuclear button" and helping bring down power-sharing with his Nolan Show interview.

Mr Bell's legal team said last night: "In the course of attacks targeted at Mr Bell, he has been accused of violence, drunkenness, incompetence, being 'a monster that had to be put to sleep' and even in the evidence of Arlene Foster, for being personally responsible for the collapse of government in Northern Ireland.

"Nobody has actually sought to undermine the truth of his evidence.

"Few other people in the position of Mr Bell would have exposed themselves to the inevitable end of a political career, and disparaging and untruthful smear campaign, isolation and personal distress with no vested interest in the outcome other than the public good."

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