Stormont continues to delay Arlene Foster's RHI correspondence

On Monday, Arlene Foster avoiding being ousted from office despite the majority of MLAs voting in favour of the motion to exclude. Picture by Arthur Allison
Andrew Madden

STORMONT is continuing to delay the release of correspondence between Arlene Foster, energy regulators Ofgem and officials in her department relating to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.

In response, opposition party leaders urged the executive to explain their motives behind their refusal to disclose the information.

Ofgem were contracted to administer the scheme in 2012 while the DUP leader was the minister for enterprise, trade and investment (Deti).

In May of this year, Deti was replaced by the department for the economy.

On November 3, The Irish News asked both Ofgem and the department for the economy for all communications to be released through a freedom of information (FOI) request, which guidelines state should take no more than 20 working days.

When contacted last week regarding the delay in processing the request, a senior Ofgem official said they were awaiting clearance from Stormont to release the information.

The department for the economy also said the FOI request they received was "under consideration".

As of Tuesday, 47 days after the original request, the department is still withholding the information.

In the past week, economy minister Simon Hamilton released several emails allegedly disproving claims made by the now-suspended DUP MLA Jonathan Bell that special advisers attempted to "cleanse" records relating to the scandal.

However, following a statement by Mr Bell on Thursday urging the release of one particular email he received from Deti permanent secretary Andrew McCormick, the economy minister complied and released the communication, which appears to support the renegade MLA's version of events.

Speaking at Stormont on Monday, Mrs Foster said she supported an independent inquiry into the RHI scheme and the release of all information relating to it, a point reiterated by the communities minister Paul Givan on Tuesday’s Stephen Nolan Show.

Arlene Foster speaking to the Irish News in October about RHI:

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who tabled Monday's motion to exclude Arlene Foster from office, questioned the motives behind the refusal to release the correspondence.

"Through their selective release of documents, their contradicting statements and through their arrogance, the DUP have treated the public with utter contempt throughout this scandal," he said.

"They are ignoring the anger and the clear need for absolute and urgent transparency.

"Digging on RHI has already uncovered the extreme incompetence that has led to the loss of £400million of taxpayer money, further digging could have the potential to uncover corruption. Considering this it must be asked, why are the DUP continuing to withhold information?"

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt echoed Mr Eastwood's call for answers.

"We need an explanation from the Executive Office as to why information is being withheld," he said.

"It is outrageous that there has been selective production of documents and emails relating to the RHI scandal over the past week by members of the Executive. I repeat, we need full disclosure."

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