Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster calls for 'fundamental appraisal' of Northern Ireland Civil Service in latest batch of RHI evidence

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster has called for a "fundamental appraisal" of the Northern Ireland Civil Service in further written evidence submitted to the RHI inquiry.

Mrs Foster, in evidence published by the RHI inquiry on Thursday, also raised the possibility of extending the Home Civil Service to Northern Ireland.

The DUP MLA, who was DETI Minister when the botched green energy scheme started, recently apologised at the DUP conference for the party's role in the scandal, which saw the Northern Ireland taxpayer open to a huge overspend because the scheme paid out more in subsidies than the cost of the fuel, leading to a "burn-to-earn" incentive.

Mrs Foster said: "I believe that there is a strong argument for a fundamental appraisal of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. With advances in technology, the increasingly complexity of policies, and the emergence of new approaches within the private sector, there is a need for greater specialism and expertise within the Civil Service.

"In my view, there is a case for consideration of extending the Home Civil Service to Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster added that the Department for Energy and Climate Change at Westminster had more than 70 people working on the RHI scheme in England. In Northern Ireland there were just two.

"That level of resource is simply not available to a Northern Ireland-specific Civil Service," she said.

"There is therefore merit in giving strong consideration to how the expertise and resource available in GB could be extended to cover Northern Ireland."

Mrs Foster was asked by an inquiry solicitor if she had been aware of claims that special advisers had sought to delay tariff reductions before her BBC interview with Stephen Nolan in December 2016.

Dr Andrew McCormick, a senior civil servant, had told the RHI inquiry that he had raised concerns about special advisers before this point, but during the Nolan Interview, Mrs Foster said she had "no idea" about the claims.

In her evidence published on Thursday, she said: "Regardless of when Dr McCormick's belief was communicated to me, I was already aware of the contents of Dr Crawford's emails and would have taken the view that there was insufficient evidence at that time to draw any conclusions about the reasons for delay in the Scheme, hence my reply to Mr Nolan that "I had no idea".

Dr Andrew Crawford was special adviser to Mrs Foster during her time as DETI minister and first minister. He has denied he attempted to delay cost controls being implemented into the scheme.

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