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RHI Inquiry Report: Lessons from have been learned, says contrite First Minister Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster repeated her apologies yesterday for her role in the botched RHI scheme, but ultimately avoided what many had expected to be a major embarrassment.

The First Minister and DUP leader said she accepted inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin's "very objective account" of what happened, but was not interested in dwelling on the past.

In a personal statement she said "with the benefit of hindsight" things should have been handled very differently.

This included admitting to "embarrassing matters" such as failing to read the technical legislation attached to the RHI scheme during her time as Enterprise Minister.

She said she was pleased there was no "alleged improper motivation" or that she or the DUP were found to be motivated by financial greed.

Speaking to the BBC shortly afterwards, she was pressed on criticisms in the report of two DUP special advisers, Timothy Johnston and Dr Andrew Crawford.

"I think it's important to put into context that they have served very well in very many areas, but unfortunately they made mistakes and that is of their own admission as well," she said.

"They recognise that and we just have to move forward from there."

On Dr Crawford, her previous special adviser, sharing details about RHI with third parties and members of his own family, she replied: "That was admitted in the inquiry so I think he's already answered those queries."

She also said she regretted the treatment of whistleblower Jeanette O'Hagan, whose warnings about RHI went ignored in emails to Mrs Foster's constituency office and department.

"To be very clear, Jeanette O'Hagan was someone who was pointing out difficulties with the scheme," she said.

"She should have been taken much more seriously by the department and of course I regret that wasn't the case."

Mrs Foster denied that stepping aside as DUP leader would have spared Northern Ireland three years without government.

She said it had been a Sinn Fein-led demand, which had already wanted to exit Stormont for a number of reasons.

"We've had all of that, we now need to learn the lessons of that. We don't need to revisit that time again," she said.

In a personal statement, former DUP special adviser Mr Johnston said he was pleased there was no "objective evidence" over accusations made by the ex-DUP minister Jonathan Bell that advisers had kept RHI matters "off the agenda" at official meetings.


Statement: Timothy Johnston

Statement: Timothy Johnston

Statement: Timothy Johnston

Now chief executive of the DUP, he also welcomed no suggestion of a financial or improper motive, including his own family members benefiting from the scheme.

Mr Johnston said it remained "a matter of regret" that he did not read a submission for RHI in July 2015, which was described as a "missed opportunity".

He said he was "disappointed" the inquiry did not agree with some of his evidence but repeated that the arrangements set up between him and fellow DUP advisers Andrew Crawford and Timothy Cairns were not intended to delay cost controls.

He accepted that special advisers would have to adhere to, and be seen to, follow the rules to rebuild public confidence.

Concluding, he insisted he had always acted in good faith and said: "I apologise for my mistakes at the time and recognise that lessons must be learned."

Meanwhile, DUP Economy Minister Diane Dodds said the report should be about "ending the disruption of the past".

She said her department, which succeeded the Department of Enterprise, had worked hard to fix "what was clearly broken" over the last three years.

This included the RHI taskforce, which worked to bring the overspending scheme under control. She said the long-term future of the scheme was currently being considered and the department remained committed to delivering a sustainable energy strategy.

Belfast Telegraph