Belfast Telegraph

RHI Inquiry: Thorough and fair investigation promised - how day one unfolded

By Jonny Bell

The inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme held its first public evidence session.

It heard how the botched green energy scheme, which ultimately brought down Stormont power sharing "struck at the heart of Northern Ireland's democratic institutions".

Inquiry head Sir Patrick Coghlin told the opening hearing at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, that the inquiry team has already examined one million pieces of documentary evidence.

"This inquiry was established in the wake of a media and political turmoil during which strongly worded allegations and repudiations were exchanged," he said.

"The inquiry was set up to provide a measured, objective, independent and publicly transparent investigation of the facts in accordance with the terms of the reference and that is what this inquiry shall seek to do."

The lead counsel, David Scoffield said the inquiry will impartially examine the "key allegations," including "the most damning claim," that politicians and their special advisers had interfered to keep the scheme open when it ought to have been closed, by delaying the introduction of cost controls.

He went into detail on the process the inquiry will take over the coming months before beginning an examination of how the scheme was established and how it developed over time.

The QC said there would be "no parade of the guilty," but the failure and who was responsible would be the over-arching purpose of the final report. Stressing the inquiry would not find criminal or civil liability, he said those hoping otherwise would be "disappointed".

Not everyone will be "content" with the inquiry's ultimate conclusions, he said, "but they should be satisfied with the fairness of its work".

Mr Scoffield outlined how each witness would be heard in relevance to their part in the sequence of the establishment of the scheme and their importance. Therefore key players, such as DUP leader Arlene Foster who was Enterprise Minister at the time the scheme was established and former MLA Jonathan Bell who closed the scheme would be heard nearer the end of the process. They deny wrongdoing in any way in the system.

The inquiry will not investigate individual applications to the scheme of which there were over 2,000 but Mr Scoffield said it would look at applications if they cut across the inquiry's remit and involve those responsible for taking decisions.

Some documents are also to be redacted, but this will only be done at the behest of the inquiry head after careful consideration on their usefulness and potential detriment they could cause, while a whistleblower who raised concerns about the scheme and asked for anonymity, will be identified, the inquiry heard.

Here's how the first day unfolded:

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