RHI grilling is a warning to anyone who might think being a Stormont minister is all about photo ops

Jonathan Bell insisted in his evidence to the RHI inquiry on Friday that he did read as minister, and rejected as a "smear" claims to the contrary
Jonathan Bell insisted in his evidence to the RHI inquiry on Friday that he did read as minister, and rejected as a "smear" claims to the contrary

In his evidence yesterday morning, Jonathan Bell was asked whether he had any conversations about RHI costs in the summer of 2015.

Mr Bell said: “...I can’t recall conversations which were part of dozens of conversations, and you know very often I was in the ministerial car from 7 o’clock in the morning through to 11 o‘clock in the evening, I was at function after function, function and press function and there were quite literally hundreds of conversations, but when people say I told this on this day, I am not going to contradict it but in my evidence I cannot say truthfully to you that I recall it.”

Jonathan Bell was grilled relentlessly by the RHI panel

Jonathan Bell was grilled relentlessly by the RHI panel

This comment struck a chord with me as I sat in the press gallery during yesterday’s session.

A decade ago, as News Letter news editor, I noticed that day after day we got press releases on the functions for that day of the various Stormont ministers.

Often there were a dozen or so engagements: openings and talks and gatherings. It seemed each minister was at an average of almost an event a day.

If an event is 20 miles away then attending it will take up almost half your day, even if you only stay for an hour or two.

When did they ever get work or reading done, I wondered? I asked a reporter to do a story on how ministerial life seemed to be rotating list of photo opportunities.

Mr Bell insisted yesterday he did read as minister: “Obviously I disagree with the smear that people say I didn’t read [documents], I don’t know where they’ve got that from, in fact I often read before people came into my office but I understand that people have young children, my children were older than that.”

But even if ministerial life was easy, the relentless grilling that Mr Bell got all day yesterday is a warning to anyone who thinks that holding governmental office means only good publicity.

• Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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