Belfast Telegraph

RHI: 'Jonathan Bell told lies.. and he knows it,' DUP spin doctor tells cash-for-ash inquiry

By Belfast Telegraph reporter Jonathan Bell

The DUP's chief spin doctor said the party's former Enterprise Minister "lied" about his own family ties to the RHI scheme.

Jonathan Bell, using Assembly privilege, said John Robinson - along with Timothy Johnson the now chief executive of the DUP - stopped him from closing down the botch RHI scheme because they had "such extensive interests in the poultry industry".

The DUP at that time described Mr Bell’s claims as “outrageous, untrue and unfounded”.

The DUP director of communications - who was at one stage a special adviser in the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment under Simon Hamilton - denied he had any knowledge of the RHI scheme prior to entering the department in June 2016.

He said he "absolutely" did not shy away from his family ties with the farming industry. He was raised on a diary farm and has two brothers who are chicken farmers but neither are involved with the RHI scheme. His father-in-law however, does have two boiler on the botched scheme. Mr Robinson said he never discussed the scheme with anyone and it was "never on his radar" prior to official briefings on the matter from DETI officials when he was a Spad and after the scheme's closure.

Mr Bell said he got the information from DUP Spad Timothy Cairns. Mr Cairns, however, denied this.

In written evidence to the inquiry, Mr Robinson said he regretted not declaring earlier that his father-in-law was a recipient of the RHI scheme, but he insisted he had “no financial interest” in his relative’s business, adding: “At no time was my judgment conflicted.”

At Wednesday's RHI inquiry he said Mr Bell's revelations in the Assembly were "incredibly hurtful".

"I was as shocked as anybody," he said.

"My family were catapulted into a media spotlight they did not deserve. They are hard-working honest people.  It impinged on not only my integrity but the integrity of my family. And, as we will come on to, my wife’s family. You feel a sense of guilt for that.

"And I do feel a sense of guilt about that.

"Jonathan Bell told lies, he knows he told lies and I'll just leave it at that."

Mr Robinson said once he became Spad at DETI he and the minister received "detailed briefings" on the RHI scheme and the extent of its problems.

He said he and Minister Hamilton were shocked when they were informed recipients on the scheme were given notice of "unannounced" inspections.

Describing Mr Hamilton as "details focused," he said the minister was determined that any changes made to the scheme were "legally robust".

He also outlined how Mr Hamilton was "furious" at the short notice given for the publication of the damning audit report into the scheme which first highlighted the issue in the summer of 2016 and that led to "distrust" between minister and officials.

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