Belfast Telegraph

RHI scandal: Department releases 'critical' email following Jonathan Bell demand

The email which suspended DUP MLA Jonathan Bell described as "critical" to the Renewable Heating Incentive scandal and called for it to be published, has been released.

Ahead of Monday's special sitting of the Assembly, the former Enterprise Minister called for the January 2016 email addressed to the head of the civil service and from his then permanent secretary Andrew McCormick to be released.

The Department of Economy then released the email. In it Mr McCormick outlines how issues came to his attention in the Renewable Heating Incentive and reviews instigated to investigate potential fraud or abuse of the scheme.

He explains how there had been a spike in applications to the scheme. Six weeks prior to changes in the scheme in November 2015, there had been double the number of applications compared to the first three years of the RHI.

Something he said could not have been expected.

He said: "There were delays in introducing the reduction in entitlement's in the autumn, as there was some initial reluctance to make the necessary legislative changes (any change to the scheme requires the affirmative approval of the Assembly).

"With hindsight, I might have sought a Ministerial Direction at an earlier stage.

"However, the spike in demand prior to the November legislation to tighten tariff controls was beyond reasonable prediction.

"It was only at this stage... that scheme closure became the only realistic option."

Jonathan Bell has claimed his decision to change the scheme was overruled by DUP advisers.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster has said there was no pressure applied from her, or any others in her party to delay restrictions being placed on the scheme or on its eventual closure.

Speaking in the Assembly on Monday, Mrs Foster said: "I have checked and confirmed that no Minister made any such request or took any interest in the decision taken in September 2015. The DUP party officers took no interest in this issue and gave no instructions.

"It is therefore clear that whatever the belief, the DUP did not ask the DETI Minister to extend the scheme."

More: Full Arlene Foster statement to Assembly over RHI debacle

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