Northern Ireland news

Who's who at the RHI inquiry?

DUP leader Arlene Foster with former party colleague Jonathan Bell

Arlene Foster:

The DUP leader and former first minister headed the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) when the RHI scheme was launched in 2012.

Subsidy tariffs were set too high and without a cap, leading to costs spiralling out of control.

Mrs Foster described it as her "deepest political regret", but strongly denies claims by Jonathan Bell – her former party colleague and successor as enterprise minister – that she ordered him to keep the scheme open.



Former DUP minister Jonathan Bell

Jonathan Bell:

Succeeded Mrs Foster as Deti minister in May 2015 and remained in post until May 2016 when RHI costs became a problem.

The former DUP Strangford MLA alleged two DUP special advisers (Spads), Timothy Johnston and Andrew Crawford, intervened to delay the introduction of cost controls in autumn 2015 – a period when there was a spike in applications to the already overstretched scheme. The advisers deny the claims.

He claimed Mrs Foster "overruled" his bid to finally close the botched scheme in early 2016.


 The DUP's key Spads and ministers who have faced questions at the RHI Inquiry


Timothy Cairns:

Timothy Cairns was a special adviser to Jonathan Bell

A former barrister, he was Mr Bell's special adviser at Deti.

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

Mr Bell said he believed Mr Cairns saw himself as working for the other Spads and not him as minister.

But Mr Cairns has accused Mr Bell of bullying, swinging a punch at him and trying to break his finger – claims Mr Bell denies



DUP chief executive Timothy Johnston

Timothy Johnston:

After being a special adviser to Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson, Mr Johnston became a Spad to Arlene Foster when she took on the role of first minister in January 2016.

He was accused by Mr Bell of not allowing the RHI scheme to close in early autumn 2015, but he has rejected that allegation.

Following the collapse of the Stormont executive over the RHI scandal in early 2017, he later became chief executive of the DUP.



Former DUP Spad Andrew Crawford

Andrew Crawford:

From Beragh in Co Tyrone, he was Spad to Mrs Foster in Deti when the botched RHI scheme was introduced, and was later a Spad to former DUP agriculture minister Michelle McIlveen.

He quit his Spad role in January 2017 after Mr McCormick told a Stormont committee hearing that he understood influence was being exerted by Mr Crawford to keep the scheme running at a high tariff level.

He denied the allegations and any wrongdoing. However, at the RHI inquiry, he accepted it was "inappropriate" to have shared RHI cost control plans with family members months before they were introduced. He is still employed by the DUP, doing part-time advisory work.



Stephen Brimstone:

Stephen Brimstone was a DUP special adviser for eight years, serving both former first ministers Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster before leaving in November 2016.

He installed a biomass boiler at a shed beside his Co Antrim home and applied for the RHI scheme in 2015. The boiler also heated his house and was the subject of complaints to police and the energy regulator, but was found to comply with regulations.

Mr Brimstone was also a Spad to former social development minister Nelson McCausland and was embroiled in controversy in 2013 when ex-DUP councillor and Housing Executive board member Jenny Palmer claimed he had pressured her to change her vote in relation to a contract involving maintenance firm Red Sky. He denied any wrongdoing.



John Robinson:

After working-part time for the DUP as a press officer while at university, John Robinson became the party's director of communications aged just 22.

He was appointed a special adviser to economy minister Simon Hamilton in May 2016 and served in the role until Stormont's collapse in March 2017, after which he returned to the role of communications chief.

He stood aside from any involvement in the RHI scheme in January 2017 after it emerged his father-in-law Hugh Rutledge's business Highgate Poultry is a scheme recipient, although he said he had no financial interest in the company.



Former Deti permanent secretary Andrew McCormick

Andrew McCormick:

He became permanent secretary at Deti in 2014 and was in the post when the RHI scheme's massive overspend became clear.

Mr McCormick told the RHI inquiry that Mr Cairns told him Mr Johnston, another DUP Spad, was involved in the decision to delay cost controls.

In January, it was announced that Mr McCormick was being appointed as Director General of International Relations for Brexit amid the absence of an executive.



David Sterling, interim head of the civil service

David Sterling:

As interim head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (HOCS), he is effectively the man in charge of running Stormont departments in the absence of devolved government.

He was the lead civil servant in Deti when it introduced the flawed RHI scheme in 2012.

Mr Bell alleged to the RHI inquiry that Mr Sterling feared the energy scheme controversy would cost him his chance to become HOCS.

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