Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: More interesting times lie ahead in scrutiny of Arlene

DUP leader Arlene Foster gives evidence in senate chamber yesterday
DUP leader Arlene Foster gives evidence in senate chamber yesterday
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

It brought down the power-sharing Executive and threatened to end her political career - yet Arlene Foster didn't look like a woman under pressure when she appeared before the RHI inquiry yesterday.

The DUP leader is not someone who hides her emotions well.

Time and time again, she's shown that she's an open book.

But her face, body language and tone of voice betrayed no nerves or unease as she began her evidence in the senate chamber of Parliament Buildings. With the Bible in her right hand, she took the oath just after 2pm.

Many witnesses have preceded her. However, counsel to the inquiry David Scoffield QC acknowledged that the DUP leader's former high office and current political role meant there was "heightened interest" in her evidence. He stressed that she would be treated like everybody else and the format of the investigation was inquisitorial.

"Mrs Foster, like every witness who appears before the inquiry, will be asked probing questions but she won't be cross-examined in an adversarial manner," he said.

She would be treated with "rigour, courtesy and fairness". The crucifixion of Arlene Foster this would not be.

The evidence that transpired over the next three hours was highly technical and must have felt flat for those watching live online who were expecting fireworks.

It was always going to be so.

This part of the inquiry is dealing with the design of the RHI initiative and how it operated until June 2015.

It is when the inquiry examines the closure of the scheme and the claims made by former DUP minister Jonathan Bell that it will really get interesting.

Mrs Foster is due back in the senate chamber to give evidence about such matters in the autumn. Those sessions will surely make for more compelling viewing.

We didn't gain any new insights into her yesterday. Even a fleeting observer of Stormont affairs would have already known she was more comfortable with the economic development and tourism parts of her old trade and investment job than she was with an area as complex and, let's face it, dull, as energy.

Mrs Foster will be back giving evidence this morning. But if we're hoping for sparky headlines, we'll likely have to wait another few months until her final appearance.

Belfast Telegraph


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