16/12/2016

Jonathan Bell: First Minister Should Apologise Over RHI Scheme

Former Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell claims First Minister Arlene Foster should apologise over the botched Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

In an exclusive interview with Stephen Nolan, which was broadcast on the BBC on Thursday, 15 December, Mr Bell said a public inquiry should be held.

An investigation by Spotlight revealed several errors in the scheme, which it is understood will cost the public purse over £400million.

He claimed Mrs Foster was "hostile" and "abusive" during a meeting in January this year and said she insisted the scheme should not be closed.

However, Mrs Foster, who was Enterprise Minister at the time, accused Mr Bell of being "aggressive" and said she felt "intimidated" by him.

She also rejected calls for her to stand down as First Minister or step aside while the scheme was being investigated.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has invited Mrs Foster to give evidence over the scheme.
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Mr Bell and former minister Sammy Wilson have also been called to appear before the PAC.

They are expected to give evidence after the New Year.

Alliance Leader Naomi Long said: "The interviews given by the First Minister and Jonathan Bell raise more questions than they answer. They are internally inconsistent, as well as conflicting with each other.

"Given the limitations which we have seen previously with Public Accounts Committee inquiries and the significant sums of public money involved, we believe that an independent judge led inquiry may now be the only means of establishing the objective facts in a manner which is capable of restoring public confidence in the devolved institutions.

"We need to know why the scheme was kept open after the financial implications were known and who benefited, including those accepted into the scheme and contractors supplying equipment or fuel.

"At the very least, the First Minister should step aside for the duration of that investigation and all paperwork and correspondence relating to RHI should be released publicly as we have previously stated."

(CD/MH)

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