Former DUP minister branded a liar over ‘cash for ash’ claims

Jonathan Bell claimed party officials tried to block efforts to curb green energy scheme overspend

The  DUP director of communications John Robinson appearing before the public inquiry on Northern Ireland’s botched green energy scheme at the NI Assembly in Belfast. Photograph: RHI/PA Wire.

The DUP director of communications John Robinson appearing before the public inquiry on Northern Ireland’s botched green energy scheme at the NI Assembly in Belfast. Photograph: RHI/PA Wire.

 

The DUP’s director of communications has branded one of the party’s former minister a “liar” over claims that he tried to delay cost controls for the North’s botched green energy scheme.

John Robinson said the claims by Jonathan Bell led to his family being “undeservedly catapulted” into the media spotlight.

Mr Bell, a former enterprise minister, made a statement in January 2017 to the Assembly over the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), which aimed to encourage the use of green energy.

The scheme hit the headlines in late 2016 after it emerged the cost of running it had spiralled due to over-generous subsidies, and it became known as the “cash for ash”. The RHI Inquiry has been tasked with finding out what went wrong.

Mr Bell had said that senior DUP staff had sought to block curbs to the RHI scheme because of “extensive interests in the poultry industry”, and named Mr Robinson and special adviser Timothy Johnston. The DUP at that time described Mr Bell’s claims as “outrageous, untrue and unfounded”.

In written evidence to the inquiry, Mr Robinson said he regretted not declaring earlier that his father-in-law was a participant in the RHI scheme, but he insisted he had “no financial interest” in his relative’s business.

“At no time was my judgment conflicted,” he said.

‘No role’

In his witness statement to the inquiry, the father-in-law, Hugh Rutledge, said Mr Robinson “had no role” in his RHI application.

Asked why Mr Bell would name him, Mr Robinson replied: “Only he can answer that question.”

“It impinged on not only my integrity but the integrity of my family. And, as we will come on to, my wife’s family. You feel a sense of guilt for that...Jonathan told lies, he knows he told lies.”

Mr Robinson was then special adviser to DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton, at the department which was then running the RHI scheme.

Meanwhile, outside of the inquiry proceedings, Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill responded to a claim by DUP leader Arlene Foster that the late deputy first minister Martin McGuinness was aware of a whistleblower warning about the RHI scheme.

“He led by example and any attack on his integrity is spurious, is disgraceful and it will be robustly challenged by our party,” she said of Mr McGuinness.

Ms O’Neill said the claim made would be examined by the inquiry but her party was confident that its position, and that of Mr McGuinness, “will be fully vindicated”. - PA