Northern Ireland news

Jonathan Bell had come to the RHI inquiry to bury his former DUP colleagues, not to praise them

Former DUP minister Jonathan Bell (left) and his solicitor Denis Moloney arrive at the RHI inquiry at Stormont Parliament buildings in Belfast. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

"I'M one boy," silver-haired former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell (48) told the RHI Inquiry tremulously.

"I can't operate against a civil service Executive Office where I'm `a monster to be put to sleep' (and) an multi-national news operation."

His appearance at Inquiry yesterday had been preceded by incendiary witness statements containing sensational claims of punches thrown and threats of broken fingers in a modern power political struggle with Shakespearian overtones.

And Mr Bell had come to bury his former DUP colleagues, not to praise them, dropping a succession of `truth bombs' more incendiary than anything already contained in the written evidence.

Having crossed the Rubicon once, with the revelatory television interview that ripped the executive apart, there would be no holding back.

Allegations he threatened his special advisor (Spad) Timothy Cairns was part of a narrative "fitting me up", Mr Bell said.

Read More

He accused Executive Office press secretary David Gordon of saying of him: "This monster needs to be put to sleep", Sky News Ireland correspondent David Blevins of advising the party "how to destroy me" and The Sunday Life newspaper of offering to print a headline reading "Bully Boy Bell".

His perma-tanned brow knit into a permanent expression of injured innocence above scholarly heavy black-framed spectacles, Mr Bell left nothing in the dressing room during his return to the political spotlight

A one point, apropos very little, he burst out with a claim Mr Cairns "said inappropriately and in garish and lurid detail the sexual misbehaviour of two DUP ministers".

The contrast with the painstakingly factual evidence given to the judge-led inquiry on the two preceding days by senior civil servant Andrew McCormick could not have been more stark.

Apart from anything else, despite the best efforts of chair Sir Patrick Coghlin, during the morning session there was precious little talk of the Renewable Heat Incentive.

His deeply-tanned brow knit into a permanent expression of injured innocence above scholarly heavy black-framed spectacles, Mr Bell left nothing in the dressing room during his return to the political spotlight, vacated so dramatically during the height of the green energy scandal.

Former Stormont minister Jonathan Bell came to the RHI inquiry yesterday to bury his former DUP colleagues, not to praise them, dropping a succession of 'truth bombs'

The performance had all the dizzying kaleidoscope quality of a professional showreel.

Here was chuckling reminiscences of good times with Mr McCormick "walking into my office and sitting down on the couch that was adjacent to my desk", and spending time with Mr Cairns "watching football" when the pair weren't "building sandcastles on the beach in Portstewart".

Here now was the loyal DUP foot soldier, forced "to take the person appointed by the party" - Mr Cairns again - and sign the bottom of a `pro-forma' letter claiming to have found "by far the most qualified candidate available", despite personally preferring "many other people".

Inevitably - given his deep schism with his former party - here was the persecuted everyman, wilfully misrepresented and "the victim of a massive smear campaign".

Also making a well-timed appearance was the dynamic department chief, meeting ambassadors and cabinet ministers, compelling an uppity Spad to stand down from a key meeting before graciously accepting an abject apology.

 Bimpe Archer

However, Sir Patrick and his panel proved to be a rather less receptive audience than the television presenter treated to the dry run of the Jonathan Bell Experience.

The retired judge delicately suggested rather than signing his name to a false document, "perhaps a little integrity could creep into it somewhere".

He went on to point out "the problem here Mr Bell is that here is a piece of objective, written evidence", in the face of yet another response of "I have no recollection whatsoever", in the face of a senior civil servant's contemporaneous note of briefing the minister.

With little in the way of a paper trail to prove otherwise, the former Strangford assembly member fell back upon proclamations of bafflement and disappointment.

Driven to bay forensic questioning by panel member Dame Una O'Brien who "has spent a lifetime working with government ministers and Spads", Mr Bell finally claimed he couldn't "recollect anything between early July to late August" 2015.

:: A report in yesterday's paper covering the period of February 2016 referred to Máirtín Ó Muilleoir as 'then finance minister'. Mr Ó Muilleoir was a member of the finance committee at the time and was not appointed finance minister until May 2016.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access

Northern Ireland news

Today's horoscope

Horoscope


See a different horoscope: