Economy Minister Simon Hamilton’s special adviser (Spad) John Robinson did not declare an interest with the department over his father-in-law’s RHI boilers, the DUP has confirmed – and will now have no role in advising Mr Hamilton on RHI matters.
The situation means that Mr Hamilton’s hand-picked ministerial advisor will now not be advising him on what is the biggest crisis within his department.
On Tuesday night, Mr Robinson – who was the DUP’s chief spin doctor from 2007 until last year when he was appointed as a Spad – emerged as the latest DUP figure to have some link to the RHI scheme.
He told the Press Association that his father-in-law had received accreditation for two boilers in August 2015 but that he had never discussed it with him.
There is no suggestion whatsoever that Mr Robinson’s father-in-law abused the scheme, and the fact that he installed two rather small commercial boilers – 36kwth rather than the maximum 99kwth boilers eligible for the highest tariff – points to genuine usage rather than a dominant desire to make money. However, unlike others in the DUP, Mr Robinson has been the expert advisor to Mr Hamilton as he attempts to clear up the RHI mess, placing him in a uniquely awkward position.
Responding to News Letter questions tonight, the party said: “Minister Hamilton was aware of John’s father-in-law being a scheme recipient. Since neither John nor his wife had any role in the business nor received any financial benefit from it, no further action was felt necessary.
“No written declaration of interest was made to the department at the time as John felt there was no such conflict as he was not involved in any way in the application, the relevant business and received no benefit and all this occurred before he was appointed in June 2016.
“John regrets this in that it has allowed a situation to develop where there is a perception of a conflict.”
The DUP statement went on: “To avoid any accusation or further perception of conflict, John is stepping aside from any further involvement in RHI matters.
“Minister Hamilton has instructed the permanent secretary to ensure that going forward all necessary mechanisms are in place to demonstrate that John is in no way involved in any discussions or briefings relating to RHI policy.
“John has fully supported the minister’s position for maximum legal transparency around the scheme. Minister Hamilton and his special advisor have been fully focused on investigating alleged fraud and abuse of the RHI scheme, investigating why warning signs were not heeded and introducing cost control measures.
“Minister Hamilton has been aided at all times in this by the advice and efforts of his special advisor.”
The DUP added that Mr Robinson “fully supports the establishment of a thorough inquiry into all aspects of the RHI scheme” and said that when such a probe is established he will “co-operate fully with it and he is confident that his integrity will be upheld in any such investigation”.
Responding to another question from the News Letter, the DUP clarified that Mr Robinson’s father-in-law is neither a member of the DUP nor a donor to the party.