Belfast Telegraph

RHI inquiry chairman warns against media 'sensationalism' in wake of outcry over civil service minute taking

Sir Patrick Coughlin
Sir Patrick Coughlin

The chairman of the RHI inquiry has warned against media "sensationalism" in the reporting of its proceedings.

Sir Patrick Coghlin made the remarks at the start of the inquiry proceedings on Thursday. The comments come in the wake of an outcry after the head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, said it was a "feature" of the civil service not to properly take minutes of meetings in order to save politicians from embarrassment.

Sir Patrick said: "You will recall that at the start of these hearings I emphasised the importance of dealing with the proceedings of this inquiry in a balanced fair and objective way and to date my expectation has been fully realised, that has been done by the local media.

"I am a little concerned at the possibility of sensationalism arising again. The important thing for this inquiry is to comply with its terms of reference. It has a task to do.

"But as part of that task it must be able to welcome people who come to give evidence to it. That does not mean that issues that arise should not covered by media - that's their task and they do it very well in Northern Ireland.

"But it needs to be done in a careful and balanced way."

The inquiry was established by former Sinn Fein finance minister Mairtin O Muilleoir. It is examining the process as to how the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was set up and how it far exceeded it budget.

The latest projection estimates it could have gone £700m over budget. Cost controls have since been established on those that are part of the scheme, however, it is still set to overrun its budget.

Sir Patrick continued: "Nobody is on trial before this panel there is no power for this panel - even if it chose or wanted to do - to impose civil liability.

"It is an inquiry with a duty to find facts and I simply say this in order to try to calm a little the way forward because the panel needs to have objective facts and they need to be given by people who feel confident about being dealt with in a fair and equitable manner."

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