DUP adviser should have 'dug deeper' ahead of RHI scheme launch
A FORMER special adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster has said he "should have dug deeper" into the details of the ill-fated renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme.
The chairman of the public inquiry into Stormont's botched green energy scheme, Sir Patrick Coghlin, said it would have been "common sense" for Andrew Crawford to have familiarised himself with a report on the detail of the scheme.
Mr Crawford – adviser to then enterprise, trade and investment minister Mrs Foster – told the inquiry he had a "lack of knowledge" about renewable energy at the time, adding that he was "very much starting at the foundations".
Inquiry panellist Dame Una O'Brien said she was not getting "any flavour" of Mr Crawford "challenging inconsistencies" in the detail of the scheme before it was launched in 2012.
"At that time in Northern Ireland there was no industry set up for renewable heat," the former DUP special adviser said.
He said this was "a totally new policy", adding that he was not coming into regular contact with people who had expertise in it.
Dame Una asked if that itself would have prompted him to "dig deeper", and he replied: "In hindsight I wish I did. I should have dug deeper on it."
Sir Patrick said that the more Mr Crawford told the inquiry about how he had "no knowledge or expertise", he said he finds it very difficult to understand why he did not ask to see the Cambridge Economic Policy Associates (CEPA) report.
The inquiry chairman said that "simply as a matter of common sense" he should have familiarised himself with it.
Inquiry panelist Keith MacLean said Mrs Foster had effectively written a "blank cheque" for the scheme without knowing what its full cost would be.
The former spad said he taken comfort from an internal audit of the scheme which was designed to show it provided value for money.
"I'm struggling to understand how you would have been comfortable – even if it was a one-off – not to have that number on the front of the document," Mr MacLean said.
Earlier in the day, an apparent lack of note taking by officials at key meetings was again discussed.
Mr Crawford was quizzed by inquiry chairman Sir Patrick on his assertion that notes were always taken, despite previous evidence from the then department head David Sterling who claimed meetings were not minuted in order to frustrate Freedom of Information requests.
"What I am very clear about is that at every meeting that I sat through as an adviser to the minister, there was somebody taking notes," the former DUP spad said.
Sir Patrick cited the previous claims about an absence of note-taking, adding: "Indeed it would seem that one of few people who didn't know about the practice was you."
Mr Crawford said notes were taken by officials at every meeting he attended.
"Maybe they were doing their Tesco shopping for that afternoon, I have no idea," he said.
The former special adviser said it was wrong to claim that the DUP and Sinn Féin had discouraged the practice.
"I think it's also a great disservice for the many hard-working civil servants who did take notes at meetings, for this innuendo that no notes were taken at meetings," he said.
However, Sir Patrick replied emphatically that it was "not an innuendo" and was "evidence of fact" provided to the inquiry.
"There's no need to use words like innuendo – that is a fact," the inquiry chairman said.