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RHI inquiry oral hearings due to end next week

RHI inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin
Brendan Hughes

THE RHI inquiry is expected to finish oral hearings as early as next week.

More than a year and a half since the inquiry was first established, it is understood public evidence sessions are scheduled to be completed on Friday, October 26.

Two days in December have been set aside for legal submissions on behalf of inquiry witnesses, after which inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin and his panel will retire to prepare their report.

No date has been fixed for publication, but there is speculation that a final report could be completed by spring 2019.

The Renewable Heat Incentive 'cash for ash' scandal led to the Stormont executive's collapse, a snap assembly election and the north's continuing absence of devolved government.

When the inquiry was launched in January last year by Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir amid growing political pressure, the then finance minister said he hoped a report would be delivered within six months.

After some preliminary public statements, oral hearings for the inquiry began in November 2017.

Sir Patrick had warned there was "no time limit" for his inquiry and that documentary evidence was due to run to "many hundreds of thousands of pages, if not more".

The inquiry will hear today from Wesley Aston, chief executive of the Ulster Farmers' Union, and one of its senior policy officers Christopher Osborne.

Stormont economy department official Trevor Cooper will attend tomorrow and Thursday, and another departmental official Michael Woods will appear on Friday morning.

On Friday afternoon the inquiry will hear from Kieran Donnelly, head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office, which first exposed the RHI scandal.

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