Head of civil service to appear at RHI inquiry

David Sterling

THE senior civil servant regarded as a key witness in the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) inquiry is scheduled to give evidence today.

David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, was permanent secretary at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) for much of the time the renewable energy scheme operated, before assuming the same role at the Department of Finance.

He is scheduled to give evidence at today's morning and afternoon sessions, ahead of travelling to the United States to attend a lunch with Donald Trump as part of the White House St Patrick's Day celebrations.

For the remainder of the week the RHI inquiry will hear evidence from officials at Ofgem, the body which administered the botched green energy scheme on behalf of Deti.

Mr Sterling was previously quizzed on the RHI when he appeared before Stormont's Public Accounts Committee in December 2016.

On that occasion he told MLAs he was constrained in his responses due to a fact-finding review at the Department for Economy.

However, Mr Sterling said ahead of his departure from Deti in July 2014 there had been no review of the scheme, which he conceded would have likely flagged up its shortcomings.

"I accept that a review did not take place in my time – I accept that in the business case it was said a review would take place in early 2014," he told the committee.

"I can't satisfactorily explain why the review didn't take place."

Mr Sterling was criticised by Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney for pleading ignorance or citing Deti's fact-finding exercise for preventing him from answering certain questions.

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