Statement on allegations by former Minister

Date published: 19 December 2016

Economy Minister Simon Hamilton MLA said: “Former DETI Minister Jonathan Bell alleged in a BBC interview last week that an attempt had been made by OFMDFM officials to "cleanse" Government records in relation to First Minister Arlene Foster's involvement with RHI deliberations.

Statement on allegations by former Minister
Statement on allegations by former Minister

"He cited a senior official from my Department, Mr Chris Stewart, as a 'whistleblower' who had alerted him to this matter.

"This was a very serious allegation, and naturally received extensive media coverage. Given this level of seriousness, I requested full transparency from my Department as a matter of urgency, including the release of relevant paperwork. 

"I am today publishing that documentation together with a note for the record prepared by Mr Stewart with input from Departmental Permanent Secretary Andrew McCormick.

"The actual facts of the matter are now in the public domain and I would urge everyone to study the material. I am satisfied that Mr Bell's account is seriously at variance from the facts.

"There are are many technical details here involving the machinery of Government. But I would make the following observations:

  • As detailed, this documentation involves the drafting and redrafting of a DETI submission regarding RHI closure in 2016. There was no 'cleansing' of records, as both drafts are recorded and retained. Both are published today. 
  • The re-drafting was undertaken by Mr Bell's special adviser. It deleted a specific reference to OFMDFM  being involved in discussions in early 2016 on the closure of RHI. This was not done on behalf of or to the benefit of First Minister Foster. As the documentation shows, this OFMDFM involvement  helped secure the closure of RHI in February 2016 - earlier than the date originally signed off on by Minister Bell. To suggest this was a cover-up is to ignore the facts. The involvement of the First Minister and deputy First Minster to bring forward RHI closure was in the public interest and the original draft made this involvement explicit.
  • These deliberations and submission preparations in early 2016 were on the closure date for RHI. They were not on the separate 2015 decision regarding the introduction of RHI cost controls."

Notes to editors: 

  1. The attached word document entitled ‘Submission – Closure of RHI – Urgent Executive Approval’ is a tracked change version and thus may not be able to be properly viewed on all devices. The documents issued alongside this release can be accessed at the DfE website.
  2. The officials named in this press release and in the associated documentation are not available for comment.
  3. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department for the Economy Press Office on 028 9052 9604. Out of office hours please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 076 2397 4383 and your call will be returned.

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