Northern Ireland news

Senior civil servant baffled by Arlene Foster's response given what her spads knew

In a TV interview Arlen Foster said she had 'no idea' why the RHI tariff reduction had been delayed

SENIOR civil servant Andrew McCormick was "very surprised" when Arlene Foster claimed she did not know why a reduction in the RHI tariff had been delayed given that her advisers were aware of the reason.

In his written evidence to the inquiry into the botched scheme, the former Department for the Economy (DfE) permanent secretary says in the days ahead of Mrs Foster's December 2016 TV interview with Stephen Nolan, it emerged that her former special adviser Andrew Crawford was the "instigator of the delay".

Mr Crawford, who told the inquiry earlier this year that he continues to work for DUP, has already admitted leaking confidential information about RHI to relatives involved in the poultry industry.

Mr McCormick's evidence notes that the former DUP spad's brother was accredited for the RHI subsidy on November 16 and 17 2015 – which he describes as "the last day before the tariff reduction".

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He says he discussed this issue with the then Stormont press secretary David Gordon as it "exposed the DUP to very severe risk of criticism".

While Mr McCormick says he did not receive confirmation that Mr Crawford had sought to delay the RHI tariff reduction until the day after Mrs Foster's TV interview, he notes that in discussions that week with DUP spads Timothy Johnston – now the party's chief executive – and Richard Bullick "his name was also clearly used and identified".

The then DfE permanent secretary said on hearing Mrs Foster tell Mr Nolan that she had "no idea" why the tariff reduction was delayed, he immediately drew it to the attention of fellow senior civil servant Malcolm McKibbin via text message.

"In light of my knowledge of what was known to the spads, the question that arises is whether Timothy Johnston and Richard Bullick, who had been briefing Arlene Foster for the interview with Stephen Nolan, did or did not make her aware that there was a concern that the tariff reduction was delayed through the influence of a DUP spad," his statement says.

"I reacted as I did because I thought that some acknowledgement (even perhaps of the overt, visible influence of Timothy Cairns [Jonathan Bell's former spad] at the meeting on 24 August 2015) would have been a somewhat more candid answer than 'I have no idea'."

Mr McCormick adds that he "was and remain(s) very surprised" by the response given by Mrs Foster.

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