RHI inquiry dressing down leaves DUP leader looking sheepish and chastened

Posted By: April 14, 2018




Arlene Foster refaced numerous responses by saying she ‘had no recollection.’


John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Saturday, April 14, 2018


DURING Arlene Foster’s seven-year tenure at the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Investment she developed a reputation among the business community for being a ‘safe pair of hands.’

Her enthusiasm for promoting Northern Ireland enterprises, coupled with her legal background, supported the notion of an extremely capable operator who was judicious in her oversight.

These characteristics are thought to have been among the reasons she was chosen to succeed Peter Robinson as DUP leader and first minister.

But after a day-and-a-half giving evidence to the RHI inquiry what has emerged, through careful probing by the inquiry’s senior counsel David Scoffield QC, is a picture of a minister who appeared content to defer responsibility for policy detail to her special adviser and department officials.

Mrs. Foster also has a poor memory of key events in the conception of the RHI; it seems – her powers of recall not helped by the absence of notes of key meetings.

Throughout yesterday’s hearing, we lost count of the number of times she caveated her responses with variations on the phrase “I have no recollection.”

Similarly, she was keen to stress the advantages of hindsight in identifying the litany of cock-ups, omissions, and lapses that resulted in a botched green energy scheme with a potential £700m liability for the Stormont executive.

The lasting image from yesterday’s proceedings was of Mrs. Foster looking sheepish and chastened having just been told by inquiry chairman Sir Patrick Coghlin that she had overseen a department that was edging towards “dysfunctional.”

The dressing down continued with the retired judge noting that it appeared “incontrovertible” that the former Deti minister’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.”

Mr. Scoffield was equally damning in his assessment of her time in charge at Netherleigh House.

“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.

The DUP leader may blame her former officials for the RHI’s substantial shortcomings, but it will be much more difficult for her to escape responsibility for the catalog of procedural failings.

There is more evidence to come from Mrs. Foster next Wednesday and Thursday in what is proving to be an uncomfortable examination.