Northern Ireland news

Former DUP minister and spads due to appear in front of RHI inquiry

Jonathan Bell claimed he was frustrated by DUP spads as he sought to close the RHI

THE FORMER DUP minister who claimed the party's special advisers sought to keep the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) open as it soared over budget is set to give evidence to the official inquiry into the botched scheme.

Jonathan Bell will appear on Thursday and Friday of next week as the public probe led by retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin returns after a summer break.

Former Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment permanent secretary Andrew McCormick, who was in office at the time of the scheme's closure in February 2016, will be the first witness called next week and has been scheduled to appear on Tuesday afternoon and all day Wednesday.

The following week will see Mr Bell's former adviser Timothy Cairns give evidence over two days, while Arlene Foster's former special adviser Andrew Crawford is also scheduled to make a return appearance on Thursday and Friday September 13 and 14.

Mr Crawford was forced to resign in January 2017, at the height of public outcry over the RHI, after Mr McCormick claimed he exerted influence over a flawed energy scheme.

The former DUP spad has since admitted sharing RHI cost control plans with family members who had interests in the poultry industry.

Andrew Crawford admitted sharing RHI cost control plans with family members involved in the poultry industry

Mr Bell's appearance at the inquiry is expected to be closely scrutinised, given his previous explosive claims in an televised interview with the BBC's Nolan Show.

In written evidence to the inquiry, Arlene Foster's successor at the department in charge of RHI claims his attempts to close the scheme were persistently frustrated by DUP special advisers.

The former spads have denied Mr Bell's claim, which Inquiry counsel David Scoffield has characterised as "highly contentious".

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