RHI: Former minister Jonathan Bell claims he was labelled a ‘monster’
Jonathan Bell made explosive claims as he gave evidence to a public inquiry about why the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme costs overran.
A former Stormont minister has claimed he was labelled a “monster” who had to be put to sleep over a green energy scheme which was plunging into chaos in Northern Ireland.
Jonathan Bell said he was the victim of a massive smear campaign and was framed by members of his own party.
The senior figure who he claimed briefed against him was David Gordon, who led the communications strategy of the Executive Office department in 2016.
Mr Bell made a series of explosive claims as he gave evidence to a public inquiry in Belfast into why the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme costs spiralled under his Enterprise Department’s watch.
I fear I have been the victim of a massive smear campaign Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell
He blamed the DUP for “fitting him up”, his former special adviser Timothy Cairns and officials for not making him aware what was happening, and claimed Mr Gordon briefed that he was a “monster who had to be put to sleep”.
“I fear I have been the victim of a massive smear campaign,” he said.
Mr Bell was minister at the Enterprise Department, which oversaw the RHI scheme, from 2015 to 2016.
He told the inquiry: “I have to say to you, I am just one boy, I can’t operate against the Executive Office.”
He alleged that Sky News Ireland correspondent David Blevins gave the DUP advice on how to discredit him – strongly denied by the broadcaster’s employer – including attacking his Christian faith.
A statement from Sky News said: “The suggestion by Jonathan Bell that David Blevins advised the DUP on anything is completely and utterly untrue.”
Text messages between Mr Bell’s former special adviser Mr Cairns and DUP leader Arlene Foster as well as another special adviser, Timothy Johnston, revealed that Mr Cairns would “fit his story to whatever the party narrative was to be”, Mr Bell claimed.
Mr Bell also contended to the inquiry that he first became aware of issues with the scheme on August 24 2015.
In September he signed an order for cost control measures with a four-week delay.
But he has insisted he would have authorised it earlier if he had been aware.
There was a surge in applications for the scheme before the cost-cutting tariffs took effect in November.
Almost 1,000 boilers were accredited to the scheme between August and November.
Mr Bell’s special adviser Timothy Cairns has given a statement to the inquiry that he gave the minister a briefing about the RHI scheme on July 8 before Mr Bell went on holiday.
Mr Bell refuted that.
Mr Cairns also claimed in his evidence that Mr Bell had limited availability that summer between his family holiday to China in July and being away in Portstewart in early August.
Mr Bell responded saying: “I was available for every meeting, every photocall, every business … (civil servants) could’ve contacted me at any time … but there was no attempt to contact me, I believe.”
Mr Bell has also distanced himself from a four-week delay in introducing the cost cutting measures to the scheme.
He claimed he was told the delay was necessary to get measures through.
The inquiry also heard claims from Mr Bell that he was told some DUP special advisers had an interest in keeping the scheme, without the cost cutting measures, open as long as possible.