Former DUP minister fell asleep in pub and was asked to leave

Witness statement to inquiry into cash-for-ash overspend says Jonathan Bell fell asleep in New York pub

Former DUP minister Jonathan Bell  fell asleep in  a New York pub, prompting a waitress to say if he did not wake up he and his party would have to leave, an inquiry will hear on Tuesday. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

Former DUP minister Jonathan Bell fell asleep in a New York pub, prompting a waitress to say if he did not wake up he and his party would have to leave, an inquiry will hear on Tuesday. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire.

 

A DUP delegation was asked to leave a New York pub because former enterprise minister Jonathan Bell fell asleep, according to his former special adviser’s witness statement submitted to the North’s public inquiry into the flawed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) green energy scheme.

In a written statement to the inquiry, published on Monday, ahead of Timothy Cairns’ oral evidence on Tuesday he claimed during a departmental trip to San Francisco and New York that Mr Bell had consumed a bottle of wine during the course of a DUP dinner.

The DUP delegation then moved to a New York pub where Mr Bell, who he described as “clearly intoxicated”, fell asleep, prompting a waitress to say if he did not wake up they would have to leave.

After waking up he consumed a pint of Guinness, ordered another and fell asleep again, at which point they were asked to leave.

“Mr Bell was unsteady and had to be helped back to the hotel while he sang the Deep Blue Something hit single Breakfast at Tiffany’s at full volume,” Mr Cairns said in his written statement.

Last week in Stormont’s Senate Chamber Mr Bell outlined his version of events to the multi-million pound probe into what has become known as the cash for ash scandal.

Retired judge Sir Patrick Coghlin and a panel of experts are exploring the design and introduction of the scheme, how it was administered and promoted, issues around the delay in the closure of the scheme, spikes in applications, changes made to the scheme and its closure.

RHI, which was set up in 2012 when DUP leader Arlene Foster was enterprise minister, was modelled on Britain’s scheme to encourage farmers and businesses to switch from fossil fuel systems to biomass heating systems.

There was no cap put on usage - £1.60 in subsidies for every £1 spent - so costs spiralled out of control and a projected overspend of millions led to the collapse of Stormont in January 2017.

Break finger

Last week in oral evidence to the inquiry Mr Bell denied he had tried to hit and break the finger of Mr Cairns during a heated discussion in 2015 over decision making unconnected to RHI.

In his written evidence Mr Cairns says he wanted the alleged incident to end, and at one point he felt “under immediate physical threat”.

“I said ‘well Jonathan if you want to be the man with big balls and just make the decision go right ahead, but this is an East Belfast matter and if I was you I would consult (former DUP leader) Peter Robinson at the very least’,” he said.

“Jonathan was enraged by what he saw as disrespect. While I was making this comment I must have been waging my finger, Jonathan reached to grab my finger, I pulled it back from his grip. In an aggressive tone Jonathan said ‘if you wag your finger at me again I will break it’.”

Following the incident Mr Cairns says he was told “you’re fired” and he then arranged to fly back to Belfast, where he went straight to other DUP staffers to outline what had happened.

Ms Foster is expected to give evidence to the inquiry later this month.

A final report is expected to be published early next year.