Former DUP minister secretly recorded talks on RHI scheme with party colleagues

Jonathan Bell taped ‘personal and private’ conversation on botched project in 2015

File photograph of former DUP  minister Jonathan Bell. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

File photograph of former DUP minister Jonathan Bell. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

a
 

A former DUP minister secretly recorded a “personal and private” conversation with senior party colleagues about a botched green energy scheme, written evidence has revealed.

Former Northern Ireland minister for enterprise Jonathan Bell said he recorded a meeting he had with deputy DUP leader Nigel Dodds and East Derry MP Gregory Campbell in March 2015 about complaints he had raised with party leader Arlene Foster about his treatment in relation to the scheme.

Mr Bell has previously made a series of serious allegations about his treatment while he was handling the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme as minister for enterprise.

The RHI scheme was designed to encourage businesses to switch from burning fossil fuels to renewable sources, but flaws in the programme saw it run up a massive overspend and prompted the collapse of powersharing in Stormont.

Mr Bell’s latest written evidence to a public inquiry investigating the affair said he also recorded a conversation between himself and former DUP first minister Peter Robinson.

In this conversation, he discussed a letter he was writing setting out complaints about his treatment, which was later forwarded to Ms Foster.

Mr Bell wrote: “As a result of these complaints, I then met with Nigel Dodds and Gregory Campbell to discuss the matters that I had raised in the letter to Ms Foster and this meeting was recorded.”

He said he sent the recordings to BBC presenter Stephen Nolan.

Previous admissions

Mr Bell has previously admitted recording a sensitive private conversation with his permanent secretary in the civil service, Dr Andrew McCormick.

He has made a series of allegations about the behaviour of DUP officials, special advisers to ministers, in the final months of the scheme, which have been strongly denied by them.

The circumstances surrounding the delayed introduction of cost controls for and the eventual closure of the scheme have been at the heart of the public inquiry.

Ms Foster has said she regrets not sacking Mr Bell when she became first minister.

Mr Robinson appointed him to the position despite internal party opposition.

Mr Robinson has acknowledged that the former social worker was an “acquired taste”, but said he had suitable academic qualifications and worthwhile life experience for the enterprise post.

In newly published written evidence to the inquiry, he wrote: “If I, and other leaders, had been bound by the exacting standards some of my colleagues advocated and could only make appointments that met the level of perfection that they prescribed, there might have been a lot of empty seats around the Executive table.” – PA

a