Northern Ireland

Who are the special advisers named by Jonathan Bell?

Andrew Crawford 
Andrew Crawford  Andrew Crawford 

In a series of extraordinary claims last night tearful DUP assembly member Jonathan Bell defended his role in the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

He told the BBC's Nolan Show that First Minister Arlene Foster personally ordered that the scheme be kept open, and further claimed two DUP special advisers went over his head and blocked its closure.

The former economy minister named the advisers as Timothy Johnston and Dr Andrew Crawford. 

Both men have said they never sought to keep the scheme open.

Timothy Johnston

Originally a member of the UUP, the former accountant is a mainstay of the DUP, playing an important role in the reign of three leaders.

In charge of the party’s press operations in the period around the St Andrew’s Agreement of 2006 and the Sinn Fein/DUP power sharing deal of 2007 he rose through the ranks becoming a close ally of Peter Robinson.

He became special adviser to the late Ian Paisley when he was appointed first minister in May 2007. Paisley famously accusing Johnston of being part of a plot to remove him from office in February 2008. Mr Johnston has rejected the claim.

When Robinson succeeded Paisley as first minister Johnston continued in his role as special adviser, in which he was paid the absolute maximum for a spad of £91,809.

When Arlene Foster officially assumed the role of first minister in January Mr Johnston remained in situ as special adviser, a role in which he remains.

Mr Johnston has said he never sought to keep the RHI open.

Dr Andrew Crawford:

A farmer from Beragh, Co Tyrone, Crawford is a former employee of the Ulster Farmers' Union.

His first major involvement in the DUP came when he was appointed an adviser to then party MEP Jim Allister.

The Co Tyrone man then moved on to a position as special advisor for Arlene Foster when she was enterprise minister and then finance minister and worked with Foster when the botched Renewable Heat Incentive was first introduced in 2012.

He now works as a Spad to the DUP agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen.

Last week it was revealed that Mr Crawford's brother, a poultry farmer, is an RHI claimant.

Dr Crawford has said he never sought to keep the RHI open.

The DUP has said that none of the special advisers "employed by our ministers" were benefiting in any way from the RHI scheme.

Timothy Cairns:

Timothy Cairns was the special adviser to Mr Bell when he took over as the Deti minister in May 2015, after the ministerial reshuffle which saw Mrs Foster move from Deti to the Department of Finance and Personnel.

A former barrister, Mr Cairns was a long time member of the DUP’s backroom staff and served his time as a Spad in OFMDFM during Mr Robinson’s tenure.

Mr Bell said Mr Cairns told him that other DUP Spads were not allowing the RHI scheme to be closed in September 2015.

Richard Bullick:

Also a former barrister, Richard Bullick is the longest serving special adviser in the Northern Ireland administration.

A member of the New York State Bar, from 2000 to 2002 Mr Bullick was a special adviser to the minister for regional development.

During the time the assembly was suspended, from 2002 to 2007, Mr Bullick served as head of policy for the DUP, where he was heavily involved in negotiations that led to the restoration of devolution.

Following a stint as a special adviser to the minister for finance and personnel, he became a Spad for Mr Robinson when he became first minister in 2008.

In December last year Mr Bullick was questioned by the Stormont inquiry into the Nama scandal, where it emerged he held meetings with leading solicitor Ian Coulter and Frank Cushnahan, who sat on Nama’s advisory board.

A speechwriter and strategist, Mr Bullick stayed at what is now the executive office when Arlene Foster took over in January 2016.

Stephen Brimstone:

The only Spad involved in the RHI saga not to be still employed by the DUP, Stephen Brimstone was also a beneficiary of the scheme. However, it is unclear how much he received in payments or when he signed up.

In 2013, Mr Brimstone was a Spad for the social development minister Nelson McCausland when he was accused of bullying colleague and DUP councillor Jenny Palmer. The incident allegedly happened during a phone call about a Housing Executive meeting relating to the Red Sky affair.

He denied any wrongdoing and the incident resulted in Ms Palmer defecting to the UUP. Mr Brimstone was then promoted to the OFMDFM.

Mr Brimstone served under Mr Robinson from October 2015 and then Mrs Foster when she assumed the position in January 2016. He left the £92,000-a-year post last month to pursue a career in the private sector.

Earlier this week, The Irish News revealed that both Stephen Brimstone and his brother, Aaron, were RHI claimants. Mrs Foster acknowlegded that her former Spad benefited from the scheme, however, the party offered no further details surrounding application.