Northern Ireland news

Jonathan Bell believed DUP spads were making 'vast amounts of money from RHI'

Ian Paisley said Jonathan Bell wanted a 'shoulder to cry on'

FORMER Stormont economy minister Jonathan Bell believed DUP backroom staff were "making vast amounts of money" from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), according to Ian Paisley.

The North Antrim MP's written evidence to the inquiry into the botched green energy scheme tells how he visited the former Strangford assembly member at his home in early December 2016.

He recalls how Mr Bell, who days later would go public with allegations that DUP special advisors sought to delay RHI cost controls, was "troubled and concerned" about his future because of the scheme that in his role as minister he had closed 10 months earlier.

Mr Paisley said his DUP colleague "wanted a shoulder to cry on" but did not reveal plans to go public with his concerns.

"The discussion from memory was rambling and long it was over a late night cup of tea, I vaguely recall one of his children being there for part of the discussion so the conversation was quite casual," the MP's statement says.

"Frankly I listened out of interest and at times amusement as he outpoured his incredible view of his place in government."

The MP says Mr Bell told him he had "a team of the greatest legal minds in Britain working on the case for him", which suggested to Mr Paisley that the former economy minister was "taking legal action not media action".

The former Strangford assembly member told his colleague he had "recordings and documents" that proved his claims of corruption.

"He reminisced heavily about my father and about a verse of scripture that he appeared to feel justified in the 'battle' he was in. It was a long and bizarre and rambling conversation," Mr Paisley's statement says.

"He spent time slagging off Nigel Dodds, Gregory Campbell, Maurice Morrow and most other people in the DUP leaving me to think if I wasn't there he would be slagging me off to whoever cared to listen."

Mr Paisley says Mr Bell had a "number of grievances which appeared equally bizarre" against Mrs Foster's then special advisor Timothy Johnston, along with fellow DUP spads John Robinson, Andrew Crawford and Timothy Cairns.

According to the witness statement, Mr Bell believed the aides "...all had their hand in the RHI scandal and that some were making vast amounts of money out of it and that he had a map that proved where all of the schemes had opened up during the critical period all of which happened to be in the back yard area of Timothy Johnston and John Robinson".

Mr Paisley described the scenario as "quite sad" but says the two DUP representatives "parted on good terms".

"I was aware I had just met Walter Mitty in the flesh and I believe Jonathan Bell believed he had met someone who would support his assertions," he recalls.

"Only one of us was correct."

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