First Minister Arlene Foster has hit out at former top colleague Jonathan Bell as she recalled what she described as a “very aggressive” encounter with him.
Speaking to the BBC’s Stephen Nolan late on Thursday night, she suggested that civil servants and politicians knew a different Jonathan Bell to the one who had appeared in interviews that day, in which he had attacked the handling of the hugely-contentious Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.
Mr Bell – who, like Mrs Foster, is a former minister at the trade department which administered the botched scheme – had said Mrs Foster had shouted at him to keep the scheme going.
Here is a transcript of Mrs Foster’s interview with Mr Nolan.
Arlene Foster (AF): I relation to a meeting with Jonathan, I do recall a meeting with Jonathan. And rather than me being abusive with him, he was very aggressive with me, and I have a witness in relation to how he spoke to me, on that...
Stephen Nolan (SN): What happened?
AF: Well I was sitting in my room and he came in and used his physical bulk to stand over me in quite an aggressive way. So much so that he was, not physically, but he was told to step back.
And you know Stephen, Jonathan, the...
SN: What was the anger about?
AF: I’ve no idea what the anger was about.
SN: Well you must have known, from what he was saying.
AF: But I’ll, but I’ll, but I’ll tell you this much Stephen - the Jonathan Bell that appears - and I’ve only seen a small clip of what you have tonight - the Jonathan Bell that appears on your programme tonight is not a Jonathan Bell that would be familiar to many of his political colleagues, to many of his civil servants he worked with in the department.
SN: Wasn’t he a friend of yours?
AF: All, all, or... let me finish the point. Or indeed to many the business community. I’ve many female colleagues who have felt intimidated and felt bullied by Jonathan over the years. I certainly felt on that...
SN: Mr Bell would emphatically deny that – emphatically deny that.
AF: Yeah well he may well do that. But let me say this. I have felt intimidated by Jonathan Bell on occasion. And I certainly did on that occasion. So all of this nonsense that I was aggressive to him – it’s quite the contrary Stephen.
MORE: Even before she had heard what Mr Bell had to say, Mrs Foster had already said that he had crossed a “line” within the party. What will happen to him now is presently unknown.