Foster attends ‘cash-for-ash’ inquiry


Low-level corruption and incompetence have emerged as the defining characteristics of the Six County Executive’s handling of the notorious RHI scandal as the inquiry into the affair began addressing the issue of political leadership this week.

Under the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI), participants received a 160% payout on their expenditure on renewable fuels, prompting a burn-to-earn bonanza of almost half a billion pounds shared by those on the inside track.

After a day-and-a-half giving evidence to the inquiry, former First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster was evasive and suffered from a poor memory of key events in the operation of the free-money scheme. Under the plan which she helped to conceive but which she is now sketchy about, participants were given guarantees of future payments for burning fuel such as wood pellets.

Foster was head of the Six County Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) when the scheme was launched. Throughout the hearings this week, she used variations on the phrase “I have no recollection” on scores of occasions. Notes of key meetings were never kept but were instead recorded on post-it notes which were subsequently destroyed.

The DUP leader’s poor memory has served to deflect blame to her former officials for the dodgy scheme. A former special adviser to Foster, Andrew Crawford, resigned in January 2017 amid controversy over the payouts.

In a written submission to the RHI inquiry, he has admitted his decision to warn family members of an impending clampdown on the scheme was “inappropriate”.

He sent details of proposed cost controls to a cousin and brother-in-law in July 2015, months before they were publicly announced and implemented.

It was previously revealed that his brother, Richard, was a beneficiary of the RHI scheme. Written evidence to the inquiry confirms that his brother has six RHI boilers.

Inquiry chairman Patrick Coghlin told Foster she had overseen a department that was “dysfunctional”.

The retired judge noting that it appeared “incontrovertible” that Foster’s trust and reliance on two key people - the department’s former head of energy Fiona Hepper and special adviser Andrew Crawford - had been “completely unfulfilled”.

“When it comes to implementing the policy or comes to delivering on representations or assurances that have been given to you, you’re a very passive participant, if a participant at all,” he said.

More evidence is to come from Mrs Foster next Wednesday and Thursday.

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