Belfast Telegraph

RHI: Jonathan Bell 'would have gone rogue' - DUP Foster's 'great regret' she did not fire Minister

By Jonathan Bell

Arlene Foster spoke of her "great regret" she did not act to remove Jonathan Bell as Enterprise minister - despite her view and those in her party seeing him as unsuitable for the position.

The DUP leader told the RHI inquiry the political ramifications of sacking him as minister three months before an election were behind his staying in the job and she had no intention of giving him another role in the Executive after the poll.

Follow the afternoon session here - LIVE RHI updates: Arlene Foster back in the hotseat after blistering morning session

The DUP leader said there were fears he would have "gone rogue," had he been axed.

She said he "hero-worshipped" Peter Robinson and instead of talking to her, he sought the counsel of the former party leader.  Something the MLA admitted may have brought the issues around RHI to a resolution sooner.

"He saw it as a role he was to be served instead of to serve," she said of his tenure as minister saying he did not take the role "seriously enough".

"He was not the appropriate person to be the minister.... clearly with hindsight I should not have left him there.

"The view was expressed to me, 'how much harm can he do in three months?'

"That was the view that was put.. it would cause a lot of problems and he would go 'rogue', if he was replaced," she added.

"The view of my colleagues and I take responsibility of my own decision was to leave him in post until the election was over."

What on earth was your special adviser doing without your knowledge?

Mrs Foster also said she had a "clear recollection" the then deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness would have been aware of whistleblower concerns with the scheme in January 2015. That's despite evidence to the contrary from Sinn Fein special advisers at the time.

During the course of the morning session, the DUP leader defended the actions of the special advisers in the DUP.

However on her Spad Andrew Crawford leaking information on the closure of the RHI scheme she said that while she was accountable for his actions, she could not be responsible.

Inquiry panel member Dr Keith MacLean at one stage asked: "What on earth was your special adviser doing without your knowledge?"

"I accept that," Mrs Foster responded.

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin said that from the evidence they had heard so far in the inquiry both the DUP and Sinn Fein "completely ignored" the code for appointing special advisers.

When it is put to her "ministers come and ministers go but Spads remain forever," by Sir Patrick as the inquiry has heard.

Smiling Mrs Foster says she "doesn't believe that to be the case".

"I thought you would say that," replies inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin.

Mrs Foster said there needed to be reform of special advisers and the role they play in any future devolved institutions.

Follow her evidence session here:

 

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