RHI scandal: Foster should have realised need for cost controls, says Farry

Arlene Foster's role in the RHI scheme remains under intense scrutiny
Arlene Foster's role in the RHI scheme remains under intense scrutiny

A Stormont document which mooted the introduction of cost controls on the botched RHI scheme almost four years ago could not have been published without Arlene Foster’s approval, a minister who served in the same Executive as Mrs Foster has said.

As revealed in Thursday’s News Letter, officials in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) put the issue before Mrs Foster in the proposal in July 2013 – just months after the non-domestic scheme had been launched in November 2012.

The now DUP leader told the Assembly in December: “I did not receive any indication that cost control of the Non Domestic scheme was an urgent priority at that time.”

Former employment minister Stephen Farry said every public consultation issued by any department would have to be first presented to the relevant minister and then approved, and could not be released without that sign off.

The Alliance deputy leader added: “That approval would cover the full contents of the document and not just the ministerial foreword.

“Indeed, every piece of ministerial correspondence, every press release and press query, and every Assembly question response has to be cleared either directly by the minister or the special advisor on the authority of the minister.”

In terms of Mrs Foster’s ministerial role in this instance, Mr Farry claimed there are only two possible scenarios.

He added: “Either Arlene Foster did read the full consultation and agreed the contents. In that case, this begs the question why she didn’t challenge civil servants to apply their concerns in terms of fixing the non-domestic RHI scheme.

“Or she didn’t actually read or understand the document. In either respect, she was not fulfilling her ministerial responsibilities.”

UUP Assembly election candidate Steve Aiken said the development was “a damning indictment” of Mrs Foster.

He added: “No minister would put their name to something which they don’t know the ins and outs of. She should have been across the details.”

The proposals to introduce cost controls are contained within a 45-page consultation document on phase 2 of the Northern Ireland Renewable Heat Incentive.

However, the proposal that cost controls be introduced was abandoned for reasons which remain unclear.

In response to Dr Farry’s claims, a DUP spokesperson said the upcoming public inquiry into the RHI scheme was “the appropriate forum” to address these matters.