Row over mystery SF power broker 'O Muilleoir went cap in hand to'
Sinn Fein has been told to come clean over who Ted Howell is and what role he plays in party decisions after it was revealed that former Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir had sought his consent before signing off a key Renewable Heat Incentive document.
In a witness statement to the inquiry, former DUP minister Simon Hamilton referred to a January 2017 email from Mr O Muilleoir to Ted Howell, a long-standing confidant of Gerry Adams, asking if he "was content if I (Mr O Muilleoir) were to sign off the business plan on Wednesday?"
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Mr Hamilton, the then Economy Minister, said it was "disturbing" for him to learn of the email's contents, which he said showed that "the business case did not appear to be being considered on its merits", but was being considered by Sinn Fein headquarters at Connolly House.
Ulster Unionist finance spokesman Steve Aiken MLA said the role of Mr Howell has "enormous implications for democratic government".
"Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill must clarify who Ted Howell is given the fact that he seems to have exerted enormous power," he said. "It seems an Executive minister has to go cap in hand to this individual. The fact that the former Finance Minister, who set great store by his links to the business community and his competency as a company director, has had to seek approval from this individual is deeply concerning.
"I assume that Ted Howell wields an enormous amount of power if a Sinn Fein minister such as Mr O Muilleoir feels that he must seek Mr Howell's agreement before signing off.
"It calls into question exactly who within the republican movement pulls the strings?
"To learn that a business plan had to be cleared with someone completely detached from the Executive has enormous implications for democratic government."
During the Troubles Mr Howell was Sinn Fein's director of foreign affairs, and described by veteran journalist and author Ed Moloney as "a reticent but enormously influential activist who doubled as chairman of the party's think tank, the body that directed the peace process for the SF leadership".
Mr Moloney, author of A Secret History Of The IRA, described Mr Howell as "Adams' most trusted adviser and counsellor" but also "a highly secretive figure" who was "arguably one of the most influential figures in the Provisionals".
It is understood that Howell (72) attended St Mary's Grammar School in west Belfast with Adams and they appear to have been close ever since.
There are only a few images of Howell, who disappeared from public view almost entirely in the 1970s and is believed by security sources to have spent a good deal of time abroad, meeting supporters or potential supporters of the republican movement. It's believed he used a pseudonym in public to avoid the attentions of various intelligence agencies, including MI6.
He was a constant background presence in the Sinn Fein delegation during the 1998 Belfast Agreement talks and has only appeared in front of the camera once, giving a brief interview while in Colombia, which was posted on YouTube by supporters of the Farc guerrilla group in July 2016.