Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir consulted with senior republicans over RHI due to `imploding' peace process

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir emailed Gerry Adams’s confidante Ted Howell about DUP proposals for reining in RHI

FORMER finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir consulted with senior republicans over how to deal with RHI because he believed the peace process was "imploding".

In January last year, the South Belfast MLA emailed Gerry Adams’s confidante Ted Howell about DUP proposals for reining in RHI.

Mr Howell, a member of Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle, had come out of retirement at the request of the late Martin McGuinness to chair a “crisis committee” dealing with the fallout from the botched green energy scheme.

"This was the greatest political crisis of the last decade," said the former Stormont minister.

The previous month, Mr Ó Muilleoir sent documents relating to RHI to Pádraic Wilson, the former officer commanding of IRA inmates in the Maze Prison

It was in that role that he met the then British Secretary of State Mo Mowlam inside the jail in 1998.

In 2015 charges of IRA membership and addressing meetings to encourage support for the IRA were withdrawn against Mr Wilson and another high-profile republican in a case centring on an alleged internal IRA investigation after the murder of father-of-two Robert McCartney in January 2005.

Pádraic Wilson leaves court in Belfast in 2015 after the prosecution case against him on a charge of IRA membership collapsed. Picture by Alan Lewis

The prosecution offered no evidence again the men, who had denied the offences, after principal witnesses had withdrawn their evidence.

Mr Howell and Mr Wilson were both also credited by Mr Adams recently as collaborators on a 'negotiators' cook book' he was publishing of recipes which sustained republicans through years of peace talks.

 

Mr Ó Muilleoir outlined why he rejected DUP proposals aimed at closing the RHI scheme, which were revealed in a newspaper article.

He branded former first minister Arlene Foster a "disgrace" for unveiling her proposed solution in a Belfast Telegraph platform. He said he could not tolerate the “architect of the RHI emerging like a knight on a white charger”, presenting herself as a "saviour".

He told the inquiry he asked his officials to "go to war" with counterparts from the Department of Economy to force them to come up with a workable solution. He said relations with the DUP were at a "low ebb" at the time and every time party members engaged they "drew metaphorical daggers".

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Inquiry chair Sir Patrick Coghlin likened the two ministers to “alley cats fighting”. He said while the ministers were clashing "ordinary people in the street were losing money - disappearing every day".

Mr Ó Muilleoir defended his "robust" approach, emphasising how dire the crisis was.

"This was the greatest political crisis of the last decade," he said, adding: "At this time the DUP has become a byword for less than appropriate behaviour in relation to RHI."

Mr Ó Muilleoir continued: "I apologise if you think we should have been more collegial at this point, but there is a crisis going on outside the hall, it involves the DUP, it involves the plummeting attitude of the public in the DUP and I can't, even today, divorce my actions from my determination not to let the DUP say 'well, it's the Department of Finance's fault as well'.

"So we pushed hard for a solution and I can only stand over that."

Earlier, when questioned about his role as member of Stormont’s economy scrutiny committee in early 2016 before he became finance minister, Mr Ó Muilleoir defended his party's efforts to delay the closure of the RHI.

He said he and colleagues were not aware of the scale of the financial mess or allegations of misuse.

The South Belfast MLA had called for the scheme to be kept open for a further two weeks because he believed its sudden closure would have been "unfair" on genuine business people.

It was ultimately left open for a further fortnight, during which time almost 300 new applicants signed up, costing an additional £90 million over the next 20 years.

Earlier, Sir Patrick claimed Sinn Féin had "deliberately" breached a Stormont code on using special advisers.

He was referring to arrangements that led to key Sinn Féin adviser Aidan McAteer being paid with party funds, not public funds.

Mr McAteer was barred from holding an official special adviser role after 2013 legislation prevented convicted paramilitaries from filling the temporary civil service posts.

The party then decided to employ him as an adviser paid by the party coffers.

Sir Patrick said there was no question over Mr McAteer's conduct as an adviser, but he said his role contravened a code which said that civil servants could not be directed by people paid by political parties.

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