Northern Ireland news

Simon Hamilton was 'furious' at short notice ahead of damning Audit Office RHI report

Simon Hamilton was annoyed at the lack of notice for an Audit Office report. Picture by Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Simon Hamilton was "furious" when learning at short notice that a damning Audit Office report on RHI was due to be published, his former spad has claimed.

John Robinson said the July 2016 report had been in preparation for some time but that the minister was given a matter of days' notice before it was released.

The report, which came a matter of weeks after Mr Hamilton's appointment as economy minister, was the first official document to lift the lid on the largess and abuse of the botched scheme.

"His (Mr Hamilton's) main point of concern was that this report had been in preparation for quite some time," Mr Robinson told the inquiry yesterday.

"It may have been mentioned in meetings - ‘Oh, the Audit Office were conducting a report’ - but the first that he was seeing it was…"

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Panellist Keith MacLean suggested to the former spad that Department for the Economy (DfE) officials had been engaging with the Audit Office but had not relayed this work to the minister.

"Not that I have any knowledge of – and I hope my recollection is correct but I remember him being quite furious at the time," Mr Robinson said.

Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin asked: "Did the audit team not have a responsibility to tell the minister this was coming? They are a national audit office, aren’t they?"

Mr Robinson responded: "I don’t recollect exactly at that time but I certainly can recollect the minister’s response to the first we became of this report and then realising that this work had been ongoing for a number of weeks," .

In former DfE permanent secretary Andrew McCormick's written evidence to the inquiry, he says "we all knew" that the report would include severe criticism.

Mr McCormick says he looked in detail at a draft of the Audit Office report "over the weekend of 21-22 May 2016" and sent an email with comments and drafting notes to the department's energy team on the Monday morning.

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