Arlene Foster’s former advisor has defended heating his home with a boiler on the lucrative non-domestic RHI scheme – because he said it also sometimes heats an agricultural shed in which he stores a tractor and fixes machinery.
Stephen Brimstone, who left his £92,000-a-year job as a special advisor (Spad) to the first minister just weeks before BBC Spotlight’s December 2016 exposé about the RHI scandal, yesterday appeared before Sir Patrick Coghlin’s public inquiry to answer questions about his personal arrangements.
He told the inquiry that he had a domestic biomass boiler which was installed in 2007 to heat his new home, and for which he got a £3,000 government grant, but that just eight years later it was becoming costly to maintain.
It was then removed and replaced with a larger biomass boiler on the non-domestic RHI scheme – which provided a far more generous rate of subsidy than the domestic RHI scheme aimed at householders– in the summer of 2015, as the scheme was spiralling out of control.
Mr Brimstone installed the boiler in a shed which was used as a garage for vehicles, temporary accommodation for a few sheep, and which he said was an agricultural building – a description accepted by the inspector who set the rates for his house.
Counsel for the inquiry Joseph Aiken said that from the inquiry’s investigations it appeared that what Mr Brimstone had done was within the letter of the RHI regulations as implemented by Mrs Foster’s department.
However, he said the case showed how the legislation was poorly worded, allowing a situation which was unlikely to have been intended.
Mr Aiken acknowledged that Mr Brimstone was not running his boiler around the clock, using it on average for four hours a day.