RHI Inquiry: Top civil servant rebuts SF denial of abuse warning to McGuinness

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A former head of the civil service has given evidence which rebuts Sinn Féin's stance on what Martin McGuinness was told about RHI abuse.

The issue is significant because Sinn Féin argued to keep the RHI scheme open after the point where it is alleged that Mr McGuinness was personally told of allegations that the scheme was being abused.

Earlier this week former Sinn Féin finance minister Máirtín Ó Muilleoir presented that two-week extension to the scheme – which cost taxpayers tens of millions of pounds – in benign terms.

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He told the inquiry that Sinn Féin felt that “we’re going to try and get a grace period for these ordinary, genuine applicants”.

Sir Malcolm McKibbin giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry yesterdaySir Malcolm McKibbin giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry yesterday
Sir Malcolm McKibbin giving evidence to the RHI Inquiry yesterday

Last month Arlene Foster told the inquiry that she believed she had told Mr McGuinness of the abuse claim in early 2016 – and that even if she had not, that the head of the civil service Sir Malcolm McKibbin would have done so – Sinn Fein reacted furiously.

Michelle O’Neill, read a statement which said that “any attack on his integrity in government is spurious” and “disgraceful”.

She said such “attacks” would be “robustly challenged” and referred to legal action against a DUP politician.

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She said: “The comments made before the RHI public inquiry that Martin McGuinness had prior knowledge of a whistle blower will be examined by the inquiry.

“However, Sinn Fein is confident that our position and the position of Martin McGuinness will be fully vindicated.”

Yesterday Sir Malcolm McKibbin said that he was informed on January 26 of the RHI overspend and contacted Mrs Foster that day. Mrs Foster gave him a whistleblower letter from a constituent which raised multiple allegations about the scheme.

Sir Malcolm said that he briefed Mr McGuinness in person about the overspend and the issue on January 28, 2016, “the first opportunity I had to do so as he was not available prior to this date.”

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Sir Malcolm said that immediately after the briefing he asked his assistant to email a copy of a letter setting out the details to one of Mr McGuinness’s Spads.

“When I went back to the office, I asked my office staff to forward the letter – including the alleged abuse piece – to the private office of the Deputy First Minister and also the special adviser who was in the meeting with us, Mark Mullan.”

An email read to the inquiry yesterday shows that an email was sent to Mr McGuinness’s private secretary and Spad at 18 minutes past noon that day.