The cross-party Assembly committee which scrutinised the department running the RHI scheme should have done more to question what was going on, the chairman of the RHI Inquiry has said.
Sir Patrick Coghlin accepted that the enterprise, trade and investment committee had not been provided with full information. However, he said that MLAs had been given hints which might have at least prompted questions.
The committee’s former chairman, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone, yesterday defended its work. He was asked about Arlene Foster’s officials describing cost controls “minor administrative amendments”.
He said that was “a significant development that’s being described to us as minor”.
David Scoffield QC put it to him: “We haven’t seen any evidence of anyone in the committee picking up the reference to the cost control mechanism ... and realising it was something potentially significant.” Mr McGlone said: “That’s a fair point, yes.”
The MLA said the scheme was consistently “being presented to us in a positive light”. The inquiry’s technical expert, Keith MacLean, said that “even a mild sceptic” might take the view that “it’s easy to get high uptake rates if you just chuck money at it”.
Sir Patrick put it to Mr McGlone that the committee had been told that there were various risks, adding: “You may well need more information. Why not ask for it?” The MLA said that the department was saying “this is successful”.
But Sir Patrick said: “You’re also being given information which – let’s be open about this – I feel should have alerted you to at least asking ‘what do you mean by success here?’ This has got to be value for money. You are the representatives of the public who are responsible for ensuring that the money is properly spent ... did you have sufficient information ... to raise questions?”
Pressed again by Sir Patrick, Mr McGlone ultimately accepted that the committee should have asked questions.