Northern Ireland news

BBC claims DUP declined chance to see Jonathan Bell's RHI interview ahead of Arlene Foster's grilling

Arlene Foster said she had 'no idea' why the RHI tariff reduction had been delayed

THE BBC has contradicted claims by Arlene Foster that she was not offered an opportunity to hear explosive claims made by Jonathan Bell ahead of being grilled about them by Stephen Nolan.

In September, the DUP leader told the inquiry into the botched green energy scheme that she went into the December 2016 interview "blind" and that a request to the BBC to get sight of Mr Bell's allegations "wasn't acceded to".

But Mr Nolan revealed yesterday that the DUP declined an offer to watch the interview where Mr Bell claimed Mrs Foster's special adviser sought to delay the introduction of RHI cost controls.

Mrs Foster told Sir Patrick Coghlin she "had no sight" of Mr Bell's interview and therefore "had absolutely no idea what was coming" before she was interviewed.

"The transcript of Mr Bell's interview had been circulated around media outlets that evening but the BBC didn't think that I should be given the opportunity to see what Mr Bell had seen or had said in his interview," she said during her last oral evidence session.

However, according to Mr Nolan, "Arlene Foster's team – the DUP – were offered the opportunity" to watch Mr Bell's interview as it was being broadcast, after which the DUP leader would herself be interviewed. In the end, her interview was recorded hours before broadcast.

The former first minster has also conceded that it's "possible" that she was wrong when she claimed in the interview not to know why a reduction in the RHI tariff had been delayed given that her advisers were aware of the reason.

Subsequent to her oral evidence, the inquiry team has further quizzed the DUP leader about telling the BBC she had "no idea" why the curbs on subsidies were delayed.

Senior civil servant Andrew McCormick told the inquiry in September how he was "very surprised" by Mrs Foster's response.

The former Department for the Economy permanent secretary says in the days ahead of the interview he had made Mrs Foster aware that her former special adviser Andrew Crawford was the "instigator of the delay".

Asked in a written question if she knew of what the Mr McCormick told her about Mr Crawford before the interview, the former first minster admits she could be "wrong about the sequencing".

She says she was aware of the allegations against Mr Crawford but believes supporting evidence was "insufficient".

"I did have no idea as to the facts of what took place and therefore I do not believe that my reply to Mr Nolan was contrary to the principle of openness within the seven principles of public life," she says in statement released by the RHI inquiry last night.

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