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Arlene Foster sought to delay closure of RHI scheme

DUP leader Arlene Foster is due to give evidence to the RHI public inquiry on Thursday. Credit: PA

DUP leader Arlene Foster has confirmed she sought to keep a flawed green energy scheme in Northern Ireland open for several weeks.

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) had been overspent and the decision was taken to close it as soon as “reasonably practicable”, according to a witness statement from Mrs Foster published by a public inquiry.

The minister in charge - Jonathan Bell - planned to close the scheme, but it ran for a further fortnight after former First Minister Mrs Foster became involved.

Following the indication of a very early closure date, representations were made by a number of public representatives that a little more time should be allowed before the scheme was closed.

On this basis, I asked the DETI minister to delay the closure by several weeks.

– Arlene Foster

Mrs Foster had been enterprise minister when the scheme was established.

Powersharing collapsed 15 months ago in a row over the DUP's handling of RHI.

Part of the problem with RHI was the failure to introduce cost controls, which were imposed on the scheme in Great Britain, in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Foster wrote: “I had no influence whatsoever in relation to the cost controls introduced in 2015.

“However, in relation to the closure of the scheme in 2016 and with the agreement of the deputy First Minister, I suggested to the DETI Minister (Jonathan Bell) that the scheme should be closed as soon as reasonably practicable and certainly before the mid-March date that had been proposed.”

Even after the First Minister requested a delay in closure it was still inside the original date proposed by the DETI minister.

She wrote: “I met with Minister Bell around this time in the presence of my special adviser Timothy Johnston.

“We discussed the need to allow a further two weeks for those with boiler installations in progress to complete the works."

She said she felt intimidated by Mr Bell’s “aggressive” attitude at this meeting.

Mrs Foster is due to give evidence to the RHI public inquiry on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford denied allegations that he tried to keep the ill-fated renewable heat incentive scheme open.

Former DUP special adviser Andrew Crawford who resigned in January 2017. Credit: Pacemaker

Mr Crawford, who was Arlene Foster’s adviser at both the enterprise and finance departments, resigned in January last year in the wake of allegations about his role.

He is the first special adviser to come before the RHI inquiry.

During the hearing, he was asked what difference it would have made if the risks of the scheme had been brought to his attention.

“No doubt if key documents and key information was brought to the minister’s attention and brought to my attention, at the very least we would have had closer scrutiny of the documentation," Mr Crawford said.

“And I would like to believe that we would have taken a different direction,” he said.