Belfast Telegraph

RHI inquiry: Arlene Foster 'shocked' ministerial decisions were not being recorded

By Mark Edwards

DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed a claim by the head of the civil service that notes of ministerial meetings were not taken due to concerns about freedom of information requests.

Mrs Foster, while giving her third day of evidence to the RHI inquiry, admitted that a lack of record keeping was “shocking” but denied that she ever ordered her officials at the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) to stop taking minutes of key meetings for political reasons.

Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, David Sterling, has previously told the inquiry that minute-taking stopped at Stormont departments because the main parties were sensitive to criticism.

Mrs Foster, as enterprise minister, was in charge of the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme which allowed people to make significant profits due to subsidies being set at a higher rate than the cost of fuel.

Mrs Foster, when asked about the lack of note taking at her department, told the inquiry: “It is one thing to stop taking minutes of meetings, who said what, but it is quite a different thing to say that we stopped recording ministerial decisions.

“I think that is quite shocking, frankly, and no, I didn’t know that was happening and I am not sure any of my ministerial colleagues knew about it either.”

She added: “It appears from the evidence from the head of the civil service that it was not just something that was happening in DETI. It was something that was happening across government.

“In all my time as minister, regardless of the department, not once did I tell officials not to take minutes of meetings because it would be contrary in terms of openness but also in terms of making things happen. I can’t understand how, if there are not notes taken of ministerial decisions, you take matters forward in the department.”

Mr Sterling has previously told the inquiry ministers at Stormont liked to have a “safe space where they could think the unthinkable and not necessarily have it all recorded”.

Responding to this, Mrs Foster said: “I don’t think there are any politicians that are not sensitive to criticism, given what I came through last year I think I am probably tougher than most. All politicians know that they are going to be criticised on a day and daily basis.

“None of us took decisions to avoid criticism. Politics is about not just getting elected, it is about doing something with your mandate and to deliver on what you want to deliver on. That is why I got involved in politics, to try to make a difference to Northern Ireland.

If you are sensitive to criticism you have to ask if you are in the right job.”

Mrs Foster’s special adviser, Dr Andrew Crawford, previously told the inquiry that he felt DETI officals may have deliberately misled the minister about the total costs of the scheme.

Asked if she felt she was misled, Mrs Foster said: “No it is not a term I would use. We weren’t given the information [about the total costs] and I can’t quite understand why we weren’t given the information but I can’t attribute why, because I simply don’t know.”

Below is how Mrs Foster's three day of giving evidence to the inquiry unfolded:

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