RHI scandal: Dispute develops over email from so-called whistleblower

Nigel Dodds said the email showed Arlene Foster did not ignore concerns over RHI
Nigel Dodds said the email showed Arlene Foster did not ignore concerns over RHI

The DUP has denied that it publicised an email from a so-called RHI “whistleblower” without her consent.

The woman, whose identity has been withheld, told the Nolan Show on Thursday that she had not given permission for the email which she sent to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), to be shared with the public at large.

However, the DUP has flatly contradicted this, and said that it did obtain her permission to publish it.

The email at the centre of the saga was sent to DETI on August 2013, for the attention of Arlene Foster.

In it, the woman stated that she was a co-founder of an energy-efficiency company, and requested a meeting with Mrs Foster – both to tell her about her firm’s services, and to ask her advice about the RHI scheme.

The DUP said that a meeting was then set up with DETI officials, and it was only in such subsequent discussions that the woman raised concerns around the RHI, without Mrs Foster being present or hearing about them.

However, on Wednesday the DUP sent copies of the woman’s email to media outlets – with things such as her name, email address and company blanked out – in a bid to demonstrate that the first minister had not actually been alerted to the problems directly herself.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the email “nails the myth that Mrs Foster as DETI minister failed to follow up on ‘whistleblower’ concerns” – and that therefore she was owed an apology from anyone who claimed otherwise.

The woman herself took to the airwaves on the Nolan Show on Thursday to attack the DUP over the issue.

Whilst she was described by the Nolan Show as a “whistleblower”, she herself rejected that title and said she instead preferred the moniker of “concerned citizen”.

She told the show: “Might I say only in Northern Ireland would somebody with the label of ‘whistleblower’ have an email shared without their consent which is so poorly redacted.”

In response, the DUP said Department for the Economy officials had contacted her on Wednesday “and gained her permission to publish the original email to Mrs Foster provided her name and company name were redacted”.

It added that the department had “sought to further clarify this matter with her today [Thursday]” but could not reach her.

Confusingly, before the DUP sent a mass email to the press on Wednesday, the BBC had quoted Mrs Foster has saying: “In 2013, a ‘whistleblower’ made allegations to me about the operation of the RHI scheme. I passed these concerns on to departmental officials to investigate.”

On Thursday, it told the News Letter that there had been a “misunderstanding as to its [the email’s] content”.