DUP suspend Bell as top civil servant undermines his claim

Jonathan Bell pictured yesterday near his home in Bangor. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Jonathan Bell pictured yesterday near his home in Bangor. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Jonathan Bell has been suspended from the DUP – just prior to the party releasing documentation which seriously undermines a key element of his explosive interview last week.

DUP party officers met at the weekend and a spokesman confirmed the Strangford MLA’s suspension was unanimously agreed.

In Thursday night’s televised interview, Mr Bell claimed a “highly agitated and angry” Mrs Foster demanded he keep the RHI open for an extra fortnight despite its losses.

Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday politics programme yesterday, DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that Mr Bell had been suspended without prejudice: “If you look at the DUP rules, Jonathan did not seek permission for the interview that he did,” he said.

“He did not tell the party in advance what he was doing and that’s not the way that most political parties operate.”

Last night DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton released documents which disproved one of Mr Bell’s claims.

He had said that deputy permanent secretary in his department, Chris Stewart, had come to him as a whistle-blower, requesting a one-to-one meeting to reveal that DUP Spads were behind his back amending the record to remove references to Arlene Foster. Mr Bell claimed the officials would back him up.

But, in a written statement, Mr Stewart said: “I did not seek a meeting as a whistle-blower” and disputed other claims.

Mr Stewart confirmed that he had initially objected to Mr Bell’s Spad, Timothy Cairns, removing references to OFMDFM but had done so because it was still “wholly factual”.

He said that several days later there had been a “heated” exchange with the Spad but that later Mr Bell “advised that he had dealt with the matter to his satisfaction elsewhere, and that it was closed”.

Mr Cairns left his post as a Spad after May’s election and is now the Community Transport Association’s director of policy and public affairs for Northern Ireland.