Northern Ireland news

David Sterling feared RHI would damage his career, Jonathan Bell claims

David Sterling, head of the civil service

THE man who would later head the regional civil service told Arlene Foster's special adviser that the RHI overspend could damage his career prospects, according to evidence provided by Jonathan Bell to the inquiry into the botched green energy scheme.

Mr Bell claims there were disputes between David Sterling, then Department of Finance permanent secretary, and Andrew Crawford over the closure date for the scheme.

It is claimed that Mr Sterling, who is now interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, accused Mr Crawford of keeping the scheme open to benefit "themselves" – thought to be a reference to Mrs Foster's spad and his DUP counterparts.

The episode was conveyed to Mr Bell by his own spad, Timothy Cairns.

"He (Mr Sterling) stated that there was a massive overspend and he could potentially lose his chance to be head of the civil service," Mr Bell states.

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The former minister's evidence statement says that in December 2015/January 2016, his permanent secretary had advised him that it would be "prudent" to close the RHI, even though exact figures on an overspend were not available. However, his DUP colleagues were against the plan.

"My spad verbally advised me that there was resistance within the DUP and DUP spads to the RHI scheme being closed," he says.

Mr Bell claims that DUP spads also sought to frustrate the introduction of cost controls the previous year when a spike in applications threatened to send it over-budget.

He claims it was prevented from being included on the agenda at executive meetings.

It has also emerged that as well as secretly taping conversations with former Department for the Economy permanent secretary Andrew McCormick, that Mr Bell also recorded a call to his then DUP colleague Carla Lockhart.

The former minister also claims Ms Lockhart gave him documents relating to the Public Accounts Committee hearings into RHI in January 2017.

Mr Bell has repeated his allegation that his special adviser had been instructed to remove all references to DUP special advisers on his department's records.

"I stated that I had no knowledge of this not had I given my consent for this to be done," Mr Bell says.

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