Northern Ireland news

Video: RHI inquiry - former DUP spad Andrew Crawford says sharing info with family was 'inappropriate'

Former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford has described his decision to share details of cost control plans for the RHI scheme with family members as "inappropriate"

A former DUP special adviser has described his decision to share cost control plans for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme with family members as "inappropriate".

Andrew Crawford, who is due to appear before the public inquiry into the botched green energy scheme today, made the admission in a written statement to the inquiry.

Mr Crawford sent details of proposed cost controls to a cousin and brother-in-law in July 2015, months before they were publicly announced and implemented.

At the time, he was an advisor to then finance minister Arlene Foster.

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The RHI was established to incentivise businesses to shift to renewable energy sources by offering a proportion of the costs to run eco-friendly boilers.

He had previously worked as her special advisor as minister at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI). Mrs Foster was the minister in charge when the RHI scheme was launched by the department.

Mr Crawford resigned in January 2017 amid controversy over the RHI scheme.

He had been accused by a senior civil servant of applying pressure to keep the scheme open. Mr Crawford strongly denied the claims and said he "acted with complete integrity".

In his written statement to the inquiry, Mr Crawford said that the sharing of the information was "inappropriate in my role as special adviser and I sincerely regret having done so".

He said his cousin already knew changes were coming to the scheme.

Meanwhile, a former official in the Department of Agriculture has denied suggestions that officials did not share information about the lucrative nature of the RHI scheme because their "interest was with farmers".

Appearing before the public inquiry yesterday was Cathal Ellis, who was a civil servant for more than three decades up until his retirement last December.

He spent most of his time working at DARD and during the time of the RHI scheme he was a renewable energy technologist.

The hearing was told that in July 2012, agriculture officials concluded that the cost of installing a boiler could be recouped within two years.

One example drawn up by civil servants demonstrated that a biomass boiler costing £25,000 would generate more than £11,000 in subsidies a year.

In another case in 2014, DARD officials attended an event which showed that a boiler which cost £36,000 to put in place had received a subsidy of £35,000 in its first year.

However, the information was not passed onto the Department of Enterprise, who were running the RHI scheme.

Counsel to the inquiry, Donal Lunny, said that it should have been clear that if the installation costs were covered within two years, then the remainder of the 20-year payments would be "pure profit or overcompensation".

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin queried whether officials had kept the information about how generous the tariffs were to themselves because their "interest was with the farmers".

Sir Patrick observed: "The impression I'm getting is that it was simply very good for farmers, and very good for mushroom growers and poultry people and 'let's keep it going'."

The chair said that he could not understand how the rapid turnaround of payments did not start "alarm bells of considerable volume" ringing.

"This is not something that's theoretical, it's not in the sky - it's something that is happening in rural Northern Ireland," he added.

Mr Ellis said he did not know why the details had not been shared but added he did not have the "background or knowledge" to do so himself.

"Absolutely not, we had no reason to do so," Mr Ellis replied.

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