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Preparatory work for RHI public inquiry still to be completed

Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has set a target of six months for the inquiry to report

Exactly a month on from its announcement, a public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme remains very much in its early stages.

The Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said in the Assembly on January 24 that an inquiry, to be chaired by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, would begin work on February 1 and that he hoped the report would be delivered "within six months".

One month on and the work into establishing the inquiry is still in the formative stages, with preparatory work yet to be concluded.

"The Inquiry is currently in the process of making appointments and addressing the numerous practical details of establishing a public inquiry. Once this preparatory work has been completed, the chairman will make a statement explaining how he intends to proceed," a spokesman for the inquiry team said.

Asked if Judge Coghlin expected to meet the six month target for the report and when the public hearings were expected to begin, a spokesman said the team was working as "expeditiously as possible", but did not intend to comment further prior to the chairman's public statement.

In addition to the chairman, two panel members and independent assessors are needed.

Among the initial appointments are people who previously worked on the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.

Civil servant Andrew Browne, who has spent the last five years as secretary to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, will take on the same role for RHI, while Paula Dawson, who is a member of the secretariat staff, also previously worked on the HIA inquiry.

Mr Browne has been a member of the Northern Ireland Civil Service since 1980 and previously served in a wide range of posts across four departments. He was secretary to the Human Organs Inquiry and has assisted in setting up a number of public inquiries established by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).

Speaking to the Assembly in January the finance minister outlined how the inquiry's public hearings would deal with everything from the scheme’s development to its closure last year as costs soared out of control and and go "some way to rebuilding the shattered public confidence in the institutions".

The costs or venue for the inquiry have yet to be confirmed, but during his address last month Mr Ó Muilleoir said Parliament Buildings already had television cameras in place, enabling the inquiry to be broadcast if required.

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