Arlene Foster ‘whistleblowing' letter contradictions exposed under scrutiny

Arlene Foster's initial explanation to BBC Spotlight about an email on RHI contradicted that of DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds earlier this week. Picture by Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press.
Paul Ainsworth

ARLENE Foster’s explanation for how she handled an approach from a “whistleblower” appears to contradict an earlier attempt by her DUP deputy Nigel Dodds to label efforts to blame her for the RHI fiasco as a “witch hunt”.

The North Belfast MP came out fighting for his party leader this week when he criticised those trying to pinpoint the First Minister as responsible for failing to prevent monumental financial losses through the botched scheme.

Mr Dodds called claims Ms Foster was responsible “scurrilous”, and said the “endlessly repeated” allegation she failed to follow up on concerns sent to her by a whistleblower was not true.

“Now we know that no such concerns were raised with her,” he said, as an copy of the email was revealed to the public by the DUP that the party said showed no pressing concern over the possible exploitation of the RHI.

However, in Thursday’s dramatic interview with Stephen Nolan, Ms Foster was confronted with her own claim made to BBC Spotlight journalists that a whistleblower did in fact make allegations about RHI to her in 2013 that she then passed on to departmental officials to investigate.

The First Minister insisted she had passed on “correspondence” to her staff, but said she was not aware there were no concerns in the email until it was found a period of time after she spoke with the Spotlight team.

What Arlene Foster said about RHI in October:

She said that as the BBC did not provide her with a copy of the correspondence, she had to “go on memory” when referring to the contents of the email.

“I couldn’t remember what was in the letter,” she told Nolan.

She continued: “Are you seriously expecting me to know the content of every letter that’s sent to me? I didn’t have the letter. You have the letter but you chose not to share that letter with your listeners, Stephen. Something which I regret deeply because of course you could have assisted in all of this and decided not to.”

Following a terse exchange, Ms Foster insisted the email “wasn’t a whistleblowing letter at all, but was just a letter that came in about energy efficiency”.

When pressed by Nolan that her comments to Spotlight gave the “distinct impression” she believed the email to contain whistleblowing, she apologised.

“I passed the letter and whatever was in the letter to officials. I was being hounded for not following up on that letter. It now turns out the reason I didn’t follow up on the letter was the fact that there was no whistleblowing claims in the letter at all.”

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