Northern Ireland news

Clarify whether Martin McGuinness knew of RHI abuse claims, SDLP tells head of civil service

Arlene Foster told the RHI inquiry that Martin McGuinness knew about a whistleblower's claims. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has called on the head of the civil service to clarify whether the late Martin McGuinness was aware of claims by a so-called whistleblower that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was being abused.

DUP leader Arlene Foster told the RHI inquiry earlier this week that the former deputy first minister, who died in March last year, knew about the claims ahead of Sinn Féin agreeing to delay the scheme's closure for a fortnight.

Those extra two weeks in February 2016 are estimated to have added £91 million to the cost of the botched scheme over 20 years.

On Wednesday, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill rubbished Mrs Foster's assertion and revealed that the party was suing a DUP politician for making the same claim against one of its representatives.

Arlene Foster said if she did not give the whistleblower's note to Martin McGuinness she spoke to him about it

Sinn Féin has declined to reveal the identity of the litigant or the individual who made the claim.

Mr Eastwood yesterday wrote to civil service head David Sterling asking him to confirm if the late deputy first minister was aware of the whistleblower's claims.

Arlene Foster told the RHI inquiry that Martin McGuinness knew about a whistleblower's claims. Picture by Paul Faith/PA Wire

The SDLP leader says the fallout over the claims was "damaging public confidence".

He believes a clarification from Mr Sterling will help halt the claims and counterclaims.

Colum Eastwood's letter to David Sterling

"The ‘he said, she said’ bickering about who knew what and when, will do nothing but plunge our politics into further disarray," Mr Eastwood told The Irish News last night.

"Frankly, this farce cannot go on – the two parties that have failed to get our institutions restored are now entering a legal battle with one another."

 Civil service chief David Sterling

The DUP leader has said she received the whistleblower's correspondence in January 2016, ahead of the scheme's closure

Senior Sinn Féin worker Aidan McAteer has claimed in written evidence to the inquiry that the note "was not shared" with Mr McGuinness "at that time".

Mrs Foster said if she did not give the note to Mr McGuinness, she spoke to him about it.

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