RHI Inquiry: Máirtín Ó Muilleoir will be first – and only – SF witness

Mairtin � Muilleoir was the minister who set up the RHI Inquiry ' but now he has been called before it
Mairtin � Muilleoir was the minister who set up the RHI Inquiry ' but now he has been called before it

The final week of Sir Patrick Coghlin’s public inquiry into the RHI scandal will see the first Sinn Fein witness appear before the inquiry.

Yesterday the inquiry published the list of witnesses who will appear next week, showing that former Sinn Fein finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir will be the first and only member of his party to appear before the inquiry.

Mr Ó Muilleoir was the man who set up the inquiry, under pressure from the public and after several weeks in which Sinn Fein steadfastly opposed a full public inquiry, calling instead for an independent investigation, something which would not have had the power to compel witnesses or documents, or to take evidence under oath.

Mr Ó Muilleoir, who will appear before the inquiry onTuesday afternoon, is likely to be asked about evidence which the inquiry has compelled Sinn Fein to release and which undermines what the party was telling the public about its role in the scandal.

An email shows that Mr Ó Muilleoir privately took credit for keeping the RHI scheme open in February 2016 – and told a woman hoping to install a boiler that the party wanted to see as many people in her position getting approval as possible.

The email backs up the evidence which former DUP Spad Tim Cairns gave to the inquiry last month, when he said that Arlene Foster told him that it was Sinn Fein which wanted to keep the scheme open for two more weeks.

By that stage, the scheme was operating with cost controls – but keeping it open added to the bill to taxpayers and the inquiry has heard that even after the introduction of limited cost controls the scheme was overly generous.

Next Tuesday the inquiry will also hear evidence from former DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton, the man who was in charge of the scheme after it had been closed to new entrants but when it became a huge public scandal in December 2016.

On Wednesday, Dermot Nolan, the chief executive of Ofgem, the non-ministerial government department which administered the scheme for Stormont, will return to give a full day of evidence.

On Thursday, David Sterling, the current head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, and Andrew McCormick, a senior civil servant who was heavily involved with the scheme as it ran out of control in 2015 and 2016, will return to give more evidence.

The man who is scheduled to be the final witness from whom the inquiry will hear is Sir Malcolm McKibbin, who was head of the civil service at the time when the scheme exceeded its budget and at a time when it is now clear a culture of shoddy practices had become endemic across swathes of the civil service.