Foster in spotlight over ex-adviser’s RHI role

Posted By: January 19, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Thursday, January 19, 2017

Arlene Foster

ARLENE Foster’s handling of the “cash for ash” scandal is under fresh scrutiny amid claims her former special adviser prevented changes to the scheme to save taxpayers money.

In a dramatic development yesterday, the permanent secretary at the Department for the economy said the DUP leader’s adviser influenced a decision to keep the scheme open.

Jonathan Bell, who succeeded Ms. Foster as enterprise minister, has previously accused Andrew Crawford of preventing the closure of the scheme in late 2015.

At a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, Andrew McCormick said he understood Mr. Crawford was the person who influenced the decision to keep the scheme running.

The Irish News revealed last month that Mr. Crawford’s brother James is a Co Tyrone-based poultry farmer and RHI claimant.

Last night, Mr.Crawford insisted he would only have offered “informal advice” on the basis of his experience of the department and that he did not attempt to prevent the scheme’s costs being curbed.

In an additional significant development, Mr. McCormick said it appeared that the renewables industry had inside information from the department in the summer of 2015.

Dr. McCormick said: “The consequence is very serious because this shows that there was premature awareness of the potential for the tariff to be reduced and the message went within the sector – ‘get in quick.’”

In another shock revelation, Mr. McCormick said his meeting with Mr. Bell last month might have been secretly recorded “without my knowledge or consent.”