Ex-DUP adviser accused of making ‘sales pitch’ for chicken firm

Andrew Crawford removed reference linking poultry industry to ‘cash for ash’ overspend, inquiry told

Poultry farmers were major subscribers to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which became known as the ‘cash for ash’ scheme. File photograph: Getty Images.

Poultry farmers were major subscribers to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which became known as the ‘cash for ash’ scheme. File photograph: Getty Images.

 

A former adviser to DUP leader Arlene Foster has been accused of proposing a “sales pitch” for chicken producer Moy Park in relation to the North’s botched green energy scheme.

An inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) heard on Friday that Dr Andrew Crawford suggested a change to tiered cost controls for the scheme, due to be introduced in autumn 2015, which would have advantaged heavier users.

Officials at Stormont’s Enterprise Department wanted a 1,314-hour threshold for running biomass boilers before payments would be reduced, but Dr Crawford suggested 3,000 hours.

The chairman of the public inquiry into the matter, retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin, said: “What this is, is a sales pitch for Moy Park.”

Dr Crawford had three relatives with 11 RHI boilers, who produced chicken for Moy Park. Poultry farmers were major subscribers to the incentive, which became known as the ‘cash for ash’ scheme, and legitimately used biomass energy to heat their chicken houses.

Dr Crawford said he wanted to ensure Stormont Assembly members accepted the cost controls but his intervention was rejected by civil servants.

Influencing

He resigned last year after a senior official accused him of influencing decisions surrounding the scheme, which it has been said could result in an overspend running to hundreds of millions of pounds.

The late Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP’s alleged handling of the scheme, which led in January of last year to the collapse of powersharing at Stormont. Negotiations have so far failed to resurrect the North’s devolved institutions.

The inquiry heard that civil servants wrote a submission surrounding budgetary problems affecting the scheme in 2016.

Dr Crawford removed a reference to the poultry industry’s uptake of the scheme being a reason for the overspend.

Sir Patrick asked Dr Crawford, who was then working in the North’s finance department, why he had removed “something that was true”.

Dr Crawford replied: “My concern was the narrative it was creating, the implications it could have on the wider economy.”

He added: “I removed that particular line, but there was no malice intended by doing that.”

Northern Ireland hotelier Howard Hastings forwarded allegations that the scheme was being abused, which he received from a boiler installer. The inquiry heard there was no evidence of Dr Crawford passing on the message to the enterprise department, which was responsible for the scheme. -PA