Belfast Telegraph

Sinn Fein rejects Arlene Foster's 'disgraceful' claim McGuinness knew of RHI 'burn to earn' incentive

By Jonathan Bell

Sinn Fein has rejected a claim Martin McGuinness was aware of whistleblower's concerns the RHI scheme had a "burn to earn" incentive.

During her evidence session on Tuesday DUP leader Arlene Foster said she had told the late deputy First Minister about a note claiming financial abuse of the system in January 2016.

The scheme was later closed down in the following February and a damning audit report in the summer exposed the huge flaws in the scheme, which it has been estimated, exposed the public purse to an overspend of around £700million.

In evidence to the inquiry Sinn Fein special advisers have rejected Mr McGuinness knew of the note.

Arlene Foster said if she did not give the note to Mr McGuinness, she certainly spoke to him about it.

Sinn Fein Deputy Leader Michelle O’Neill, speaking at Stormont on Wednesday, said: "Martin McGuinness set the benchmark for good government and the fair and equal treatment of all citizens. He led by example.

“Any attack on his integrity in government is spurious. It’s disgraceful and it will be robustly challenged by our party.

“The comments made before the RHI Public Inquiry that Martin McGuinness had prior knowledge of a whistleblower will be examined by the inquiry.

"However, Sinn Fein is confident that our position and the position of Martin McGuinness will be fully vindicated. Martin McGuinness is no longer here to defend himself."

She also said the claim was subject to "an ongoing and separate legal action".

The note claimed people were abusing the RHI scheme by running boilers 24/7 and all year round for financial gain.

It was passed to the head of he Northern Ireland civil service who also worked for the Sinn Fein politician.

Mrs Foster told the RHI public inquiry he knew about the contents of the whistleblower’s note, which she received in January 2016.

She said it was the first time she heard of the potential for fraud in the scheme, although the then head of the civil service Malcolm McKibbin had raised concerns with her over its financing.

Mrs Foster said she had passed the information to Mr McKibbin.

“I knew that once I handed it to the head of the civil service, that it was being dealt with in the appropriate way,” she told the inquiry.

A senior Sinn Fein worker, Aidan McAteer, has claimed in his written evidence to the inquiry the note “was not shared” with Mr McGuinness “at that time”.

Mrs Foster queried that during her evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday, and said if she did not give it to Mr McGuinness, she spoke to him about it.

“My recollection is clear, if I didn’t show it to the DFM (deputy First Minister), I certainly spoke to the DFM about it,” she told the inquiry.

“And in any event, the head of the civil service works for both myself and the deputy first minister, so I presume that the minute that was sent to Andrew McCormick… if it came into the DUP system, it would have went into the Sinn Fein system, so I would have imagined that Sinn Fein were aware of that document.”

Mr McGuinness resigned as deputy first minister in January 2017 in protest at the handling of the botched green energy incentive.

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