Belfast Telegraph

RHI inquiry: Claim Jonathan Bell swung punch and tried to break finger of DUP special adviser

By Mark Edwards

Former DUP minister Jonathan Bell "swung a punch" and tried to "break the finger" of his special adviser, evidence submitted to the RHI inquiry has alleged.

The dysfunctional relation between Mr Bell and his adviser Timothy Cairns has been revealed in evidence submitted to the RHI inquiry by Andrew McCormick, who was the top official in Mr Bell's Enterprise Department at the time.

Mr McCormick will give evidence to the RHI inquiry when it resumes on Tuesday afternoon.

In his written evidence, it emerged that Mr Cairns raised allegations of bullying against Mr Bell, including an allegation that he tried to break his finger and swung a punch at him.

Civil servant: Andrew McCormick

The allegations were made in a text message from Mr Cairns to DUP special adviser Richard Bullick in December 2016 in which Mr Cairns referred to a series of incidents in respect of which he appears to make the allegations against Mr Bell.

In his evidence Mr McCormick said he had not experienced any bullying behaviour ascribed to Mr Bell by others but that the relationship between the minister and adviser Mr Cairns may have contributed to delays in dealing with the RHI crisis.

He said: "I was not fully aware at the time of the depth of the difficulty between, in particular, Jonathan Bell and Timothy Cairns".

He added: "My inference was and is that had there been a normal, trust-based, working relationship between Jonathan Bell and Timothy Cairns, the engagement on the submission of July 8 2015 might and should have been more straightforward, and we would not have been left wondering when the Minister was going to resolve the issue by authorising the key steps we had proposed.

"However, I would not regard the difficulties in the relationship between Jonathan Bell and Timothy Cairns as the primary explanation of the delay in the tariff reduction, and perhaps not even a major contributory cause."

Mr McCormick said had officials realised that Mr Cairns was only giving advice to Mr Bell after taking soundings from other advisers in the party, they would have pushed harder for a decision on cost controls in the summer of 2015.

At this point concerns were rising about spending on the scheme.

Mr McCormick also referenced an Invest NI trade mission to the United States in February 2016. He claimed that Mr Bell had been "visibly tired" at a key meeting after a late night.

Mr McCormick said: "It was my impression that in consequence the minister was unable to participate fully in the meeting in as constructive a way as I would have hoped."

Mr Bell is due to give evidence on Thursday.

The botched green energy scheme exposed the taxpayer to a huge overspend by paying out more in subsidies than it cost to buy fuel.

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