Belfast Telegraph

RHI scandal: Civil Service chief admits no minister vetoed taking of minutes

By Suzanne Breen

The head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service is to be recalled as a witness to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry at Stormont.

David Sterling, a former permanent secretary at the Department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment, has acknowledged that he was never asked not to take minutes of meetings between officials and ministers.

In correspondence to Sinn Fein vice-president Michelle O'Neill, seen by the Irish News, Mr Sterling said there was never "any general or specific instruction to me not to record meetings between officials and ministers".

Ms O'Neill had written to Mr Sterling to object to some of his evidence to the RHI inquiry last month. She complained that his remarks ignored "inconvenient facts and lacks objectivity".

Mr Sterling had told the inquiry that DUP and Sinn Fein ministers had been "sensitive to criticism". A practice had thus arisen of civil servants not recording all meetings "on the basis that it is safer sometimes not to have a record that, for example, might be released under freedom of information which shows that things that might have been considered unpopular were being considered".

Mr Sterling explained that he "did not say that ministers asked or directed that notes of meetings should not be taken".

He added: "I am happy to state for the record that no minister who I served in any of the departments in which I worked during the period from May 2007 until the present day ever issued any general or specific instruction to me not to record meetings between officials and ministers."

Mr Sterling was due to be recalled to the inquiry before yesterday's Irish News report.

Belfast Telegraph

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