Arlene Foster’s cash for ash abuse whistleblower now says he had no evidence of anything

A scrap metal dealer who had a critical but unexplained role in the exposure of the RHI scandal has said that he actually had no evidence to back up his lurid allegations – and has failed to clearly say who passed him the explosive information.

Scrap metal merchant George Gallagher’s website
Scrap metal merchant George Gallagher’s website

Small businessman George Gallagher walked into Arlene Foster’s constituency office on January 27, 2016, and handed her a one-page typed note with the title ‘Facts about green energy and biomass in N.I.”.

It set out six bullet points, which would become critical to how the public came to perceive RHI, including specific claims of widespread abuse.

The note said large previously unheated factories had installed three biomass boilers intending them to run 24 hours a day to collect £1.5 million, and that a “local farmer who has no business or need for biomass boilers is aiming to collect one million ponds over the next 20 years heating an empty shed”.

Part of George Gallagher's sparse witness statement to the RHI Inquiry

Mrs Foster told the RHI Inquiry that Mr Gallagher was “in and out of my office on many, many occasions” but that on this day as he was leaving he gave her a typed note, “saying he would ‘leave it with me’.”

The timing of his intervention was highly significant, coming within 24 hours of the point at which Mrs Foster said she had first been informed about the calamitous problem in the scheme she had established three years earlier.

When Mrs Foster passed on the note to the civil service, it was presented as coming from an anonymous whistleblower – even though it is now clear that she was familiar with the source. Later, some civil servants said that if they had received Mr Gallagher’s name that could have helped them gather further information.

The note meant that at the point where Mrs Foster said it was becoming clear to her for the first time that her scheme had run disastrously out of control, there was within Stormont a record of her having acted correctly to pass on whistleblowing concerns as soon as they came to her – even though it is now clear that a previous whistleblower had come to Mrs Foster years earlier.

Arlene Foster says the scrap metal dealer handed her the note within 24 hours of her being told of the RHI crisis

The RHI Inquiry did not call Mr Gallagher as a witness. However, behind the scenes the inquiry team asked him 28 written questions. The scrap metal dealer responded to those questions with a witness statement almost three years ago but it has only now been made public.

In the statement, Mr Gallagher said that he had no connection to any DUP politician or spad. When asked if he had been a member or “a supporter (eg a donor) of the DUP”, Mr Gallagher said: “Have not been a member or donor of the DUP.”

In a terse response typical of many of his answers, when Mr Gallagher was asked to explain how he became aware of RHI, he simply said: “Widely advertised in press and at agricultural shows and general public.”

Asked to explain what caused him to give the note to Mrs Foster, he said: “Was there on other business relating to the scrap metal industry, and had heard lots of discussion regarding this from members of the public who come into our business daily, and had just wanted to make Mrs Foster aware of what the public were saying.”

The Ballinamallard man said that he had no earlier contact with Mrs Foster about RHI and said that he had typed the note himself. However, when asked to explain how he knew about the activity which the note set out, he was vague, saying: “We are in continuous contact with the public and other business owners and RHI was a hot topic of conversation.”

It is now clear that the behaviour which Mr Gallagher set out in his note was possible, and there is significant evidence that abuse of the scheme was taking place. However, the farmer heating an ‘empty shed’ – a claim which angered many genuine RHI claimants who were farmers because it turned particular focus on them – has never been identified.

When asked specific questions about what lay behind the note, he replied with curt responses, some of which did not fully answer the questions. The inquiry asked him when he became aware of each type of alleged abuse, to which he replied: “Around January 2016.”

He went on to offer no evidence of claimants acting as his note alleged, repeatedly responding to the inquiry’s questions about his allegations with “cannot identify a claimant”, “cannot identify any claimant”, “cannot identify large factory”, and “cannot identify farmer”.

He said he gave the note to Mrs Foster because he felt public money was being wasted but that he could not remember his “specific conversation with Mrs Foster”. He did say that he remembered that he spoke to “no one else”, “took no further action” and did not follow up his note to check what happened.

The inquiry asked him “whether you had any communications with anyone from the DUP other than Mrs Foster regarding the issues raised in the note”. He replied: “Had no other communications.”

Yesterday Mr Gallagher, who is not named in the enormous inquiry report which only devotes two paragraphs to his note, told the News Letter that the inquiry did not ask him any follow-up questions.

He said that he had mentioned RHI to Mrs Foster in “an off the cuff remark”. He said that “the scheme was going crazy” and was “ludicrous”, something he said he had heard through business and “I just happened to be talking to Arlene Foster on another matter and I just run it past her and that was it”.

Mr Gallagher said that no DUP figure had passed information to him about the scheme.

When it was put to him that some RHI claimants are angry at him, he said: “Ah, I’m not interested; I’m not interested in commenting on any of that – that’s up to them; they can think whatever they like. The truth of the matter, as you well know, was that the scheme was abused beyond belief.”

When asked if he knew the name of the farmer allegedly heating an empty shed, he said: “No, I’m not willing to comment on that.”

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