Bell: My PhD could not have distracted from RHI

Jonathan Bell, left,  was very close to Peter Robinson. They are seen here at an election count in Strangford in 2011. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

Jonathan Bell, left, was very close to Peter Robinson. They are seen here at an election count in Strangford in 2011. Picture Charles McQuillan/Pacemaker.

Jonathan Bell’s lawyer has said that the MLA was not working on a PhD while he was the minister responsible for the RHI scheme and that it in no way could have distracted him from his work.

Yesterday the News Letter revealed that the Strangford MLA had told friends that he was working on a PhD – with the subject being his then boss, Peter Robinson – while he was a minister.

Historian Lord Bew, who met Mr Bell to discuss the project but said that he had never heard from him since, said that he believed they had met when Mr Bell was a junior minister in Stormont Castle.

Yesterday Mr Bell’s lawyer said that although he had started work on the project prior to becoming DETI minister in May 2015 he was not working on the project while in the role so it could not have in any way distracted him during the RHI crisis. Solicitor Paul Tweed said: “My client would have expended no more than a couple of hours on discussions relating to a PhD, prior to his appointment as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and which had not been taken further in any event.

“It follows that this limited consideration could not, and did not, distract him from his ministerial duties.”

Meanwhile, it has also emerged that four years ago Mr Bell discussed the academic study of Mr Robinson during an interview for the book ‘The Democratic Unionist Party: From Protest to Power’.

In the 2012 interview, Mr Bell said that the working title of his PhD was ‘Peter Robinson, From Protest to Power: Architect of Agreement’ and at one point told the interviewer that he would “have to wait until my PhD” for the answer to a question about Mr Robinson.

He said that he was in negotiations about getting a PhD award for his work, but also having parts of it which would remain unpublished.