RHI probe told Paisley’s energy official accusation ‘may be unjustified’
Mr Aiken told the hearing that the inquiry team had undertaken extensive work in the wake of the incident to establish the facts.
An accusation levelled by Ian Paisley that an energy official lied about the MP’s alleged involvement in a phone call about a disputed RHI application may be unjustified, a public inquiry has heard.
Counsel to the RHI inquiry Joseph Aiken told chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin that Ofgem’s Teri Clifton had found the claim made by Mr Paisley in Parliament “deeply upsetting”.
In March, the North Antrim MP reacted angrily to evidence given to the inquiry by Ms Clifton that he was on a conference call related to a dispute over an application to join the RHI scheme.
The official had told the inquiry she found the conversation very intimidating. The dispute centred on who was responsible for an application to join the RHI scheme missing a deadline to secure higher tariff rates.
Days after Ms Clifton appeared before the inquiry panel, Mr Paisley told the House of Commons that no such call took place, insisting the claim was a “lie”.
He demanded that the official be brought back to the inquiry and “put through the wringer” to explain her remarks.
The DUP MP was also highly critical of inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin, accusing him of putting words in the witness’s mouth in respect of the characterisation of the call as “intimidating”.
Mr Aiken told the hearing on Thursday that the inquiry team had undertaken extensive work in the wake of the incident to establish the facts.
He said Ms Clifton’s position was that she had been told that Mr Paisley was on the call, not that he definitely was. He said that was her belief.
The lawyer said the applicants – the McNaughtons – had told the inquiry that Mr Paisley was not on the call. The applicants also rejected the claim that the tone of the discussion was intimidating, Mr Aiken added.
He said the group representing the applicants, Action Renewables – whose officials were also on the call, also state that the MP did not participate.
The lawyer said while the issue was one of “limited relevance” to the overall inquiry, he said it had been important to establish the facts given such a “serious allegation” had been made against Ms Clifton.
“It is one of a multitude of issues and the inquiry has endeavoured to take proportionate steps to establish such of the facts that can be established given that a witness to the inquiry was very publicly accused of lying to the inquiry,” he said.
“It will be a matter for the panel, but you may consider that the material that I am laying out before you today may suggest that an allegation of lying against the official who gave evidence to you was unjustified in the circumstances.
“You may also take the view from the nature of the statement from the McNaughtons that they feel very aggrieved about the entire situation.”
Mr Aiken said the dispute over the McNaughtons’ RHI application was yet to be resolved and was currently subject to litigation.