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'Arlene Foster told me to keep the scheme open': Conflicting reports of NI energy scandal

“Hostile, fear, and abusive,” is how Jonathan Bell described a meeting with Foster.

Jonathan bell 2 Source: BBC NI/Screenshot

A FORMER NORTHERN Ireland Minister has claimed that First Minister Arlene Foster reacted hostilely to news that a government energy scheme was being abused, and refused to shut it down.

The scheme which was to promote the use of renewable energy in Northern Ireland was found to have serious flaws in half of installations inspected by the North’s Public Accounts Committee.

The idea was that businesses would be paid for the amount of renewable energy they used – but this prompted businesses to keep heating on all year round and to earn more money.

In a BBC Northern Ireland interview, Bell alleged that Foster knew about the scheme and staunchly defended the scheme.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary of my department asked me something that was highly unusual and only done once, in the five years I sat on the executive.
He asked to meet the minister as he’s entitled to do, to whistleblow on a one-to-one basis.

“[He said that] the purpose of me being here today and for you not having even your own special advisor with you, is Minister we have to advise you that without your knowledge, the special advisor of your department has been asked by the other special advisors to remove references to Arlene Foster, the First Minister, and to the department of Finance and Personnel.”

Arlene Foster Interview Source: Niall Carson

When Arlene Foster was appointed the minister for the Northern Ireland department for finance in May 2015, Jonathan Bell succeeded her as the Minister for Energy Trade and Investment.

I was ordered to appear in front of the First Minister. In the strongest terms possible, both in volume and force, Arlene Foster overruled me and told me to keep the scheme open.

“Hostile, fear, and abusive,” is how Bell described the meeting with Foster.

When asked “abusive in what way,” he answered ”She walked in and shouted at me that I would keep this scheme open.”

Arlene Foster denies any involvement keeping the flaws of the scheme hidden, and told Irish News in a video interview that she had actually reported the flaws to the relevant people once she was made aware.

Although she regrets the flaws in the scheme that lead to its abuse, she defended the idea of a renewable energy scheme.

It’s thought the scandal will cost Northern Ireland taxpayers £400 million.

Read: Pressure mounts on North’s First Minister to resign after energy scheme scandal

Read: ‘Come 2018 we’ll have the tax!’: Foster signals a soft warning to Irish government

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