Northern Ireland news

RHI inquiry: No-one in receipt of green energy subsidy is a DUP donor, says party leader Arlene Foster

DUP leader Arlene Foster has said no-one in receipt of RHI subsidies is a DUP donor. Picture by Mal McCann

NO person or business in receipt of RHI payments is a donor to the DUP, the party leader Arlene Foster has said.

In her written statement to the public inquiry into the green energy scheme ahead of her appearance today, Mrs Foster wrote that no-one who had donated more than £500 to the DUP is an RHI recipient.

Mrs Foster wrote: "The party centrally only holds records of those donations requiring notification to the Electoral Commission i.e. those over £500. From those records, no person or business who has received or is receiving subsidies is a donor to the DUP."

Former DUP special adviser, Stephen Brimstone, and the relatives of several ex-DUP spads have previously been identified as claimants.

Mrs Foster was asked about an email sent by her special adviser, Andrew Crawford, to the DUP MLA William Irwin setting out a potential question he could ask DETI about whether the department had "any plans to reduce the level of RHI for new commercial biomass boilers".

The DUP leader, who was DETI minister at the time the email exchange took place in September 2014, defended such an interaction as "not unusual".

She wrote: "It is a fairly widely used mechanism both in the NI Assembly and, as I understand, in Westminster, to ask a party colleague to put forward an Assembly question as a way of getting information into the public domain."

Stating she was "not aware" that the question had originated from Mr Crawford, Mrs Foster added: "I am not aware of the purpose but I presume my special adviser may have thought there was concern that tariffs would be reduced and felt it was important to reassure potential applicants that there were currently no plans to reduce the level of payments."

Mrs Foster said that there were no occasions when advice or input from Mr Crawford, who resigned in January 2017 amid controversy over his role in the scheme, differed from her own view in relation to RHI.

Mr Crawford 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".

Asked about evidence to the inquiry which indicated that Timothy Johnston, the former spad to three former DUP First Ministers, was perceived to have "the highest degree of seniority", Mrs Foster said she "does not consider there is a hierarchy" within the party's team of special advisers.

However, the DUP leader admitted that there was an "impression that special advisers in the First Minister's office should be given more weight than those of other special advisers".

Mrs Foster said she had "no knowledge" of claims, strongly denied by Mr Johnston, that he had directed the approach to be taken to amending the scheme.

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