Northern Ireland news

RHI inquiry will not be finished within six months, chairman warns

Gareth McKeown

The long-awaited public inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme will not be completed within six months, the chairman has said.

The official website for the inquiry (www.rhiinquiry.org) was launched today and it included a statement from Sir Patrick Coghlin.

The retired senior judge said he was unable to provide a date for when he expected the inquiry to finish, but confirmed it would not be within the previously stated target.

Former Finance Minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said at the end of January he hoped a report would be delivered within six months.

"I cannot, at this early stage of the investigation, give a date by which our work will be complete. At present I can say that it will not be possible to report within six months," the judge said.

"The Inquiry has been gathering the relevant documentation surrounding the RHI Scheme. What is already apparent to us is that there is a huge amount of material from many quarters to be obtained and considered by the Inquiry, and this must be done before we can start our public hearings. During this investigatory phase the Inquiry will also be seeking answers from those it considers most likely to be able to assist with our work," he continued.

Mr Coghlin has ruled out the publication of a preliminary report, but stated his intention to hold a preliminary public hearing "in the course of April" to explain the workings of the inquiry.

A spokesperson for the inquiry said the date for beginning to hear oral evidence from witnesses is not yet fixed and that a timetable for the hearings will be issued in "due course".

It was confirmed public hearings will take place in the Senate Chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, with work already taking place to cater for the Inquiry's needs.

"We consider this to be the right location to conduct our public hearings, not least because using this accommodation provides significant savings to the public purse," Mr Coghlin said.

In terms of staffing Patrick Coghlin will be joined by Una O'Brien on the Inquiry Panel. Ms O'Brien has extensive experience at the highest levels in the civil service.

The Inquiry has appointed Keith MacLean , a man with experience in the energy industry, as an assessor and also assembled an "extremely experienced" legal team, headed by David Scoffield QC, as Senior Counsel to the Inquiry.

He will be assisted by Joseph Aiken, Donal Lunny as Junior Counsel to the Inquiry, with Patrick Butler appointed Solicitor, along with Andrew Browne as Secretary of the Inquiry.

"Most" administrative posts have also been filled at the Inquiry, which has set up offices at at Waterfront Plaza in Belfast.

 

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