Northern Ireland news

RHI report publication timing 'outrageous' says former No 10 aide

Sir Patrick Coghlin's RHI report will be published on the afternoon of March 13. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

A FORMER Downing Street aide turned MLA has criticised the decision to publish the long-awaited RHI report on the Friday afternoon ahead of the St Patrick's Day holiday.

Matthew O'Toole, who before becoming an SDLP representative for South Belfast worked as an adviser at No 10, said it was widely accepted that Friday afternoon is "where bad news stories are sent to die quietly".

His remarks come as it emerged that both Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill will be overseas when Sir Patrick Coghlin finally reveals the findings of his inquiry in a fortnight's time.

The first minister and deputy first minister are scheduled to travel to the US for the traditional St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Mrs Foster is expected to face criticism in the retired judge's extensive report for her oversight of the RHI scheme, which she launched while minister of enterprise.

But the timing of the report's publication, which takes place in Stormont's Long Gallery on the afternoon of March 13, has also come in for criticism.

Matthew O'Toole said the timing of the RHI report's publication was 'outrageous'

The Executive Office and a spokesman for the inquiry last night stressed that decisions around the scheduling of the report's release were not influenced by politicians.

The inquiry spokesman said the timing had been dictated by "logistics and availability of panel members", alongside the availability of the Parliament Buildings venue, which The Irish News understands is booked by the inquiry for the entire day.

Mr O'Toole voiced surprise over when the report's contents would be revealed.

He said it was concerning that "the biggest inquiry in the history of devolved government – a matter of immense public interest – is being snuck out a couple of hours before what is effectively a bank holiday weekend in Northern Ireland," he said.

"Everyone knows that Friday afternoon is where bad news stories are sent to die quietly," the SDLP finance spokesman said.

In regards to Mrs Foster and Ms O'Neill being overseas at the time of the report's publication, TUV leader Jim Allister said "it would do nothing for public confidence in politics".

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