Public Inquiry on the Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme

Part of Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:00 pm on 24th January 2017.

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Photo of Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin 4:00 pm, 24th January 2017

I thank the Member for her question. I also thank her party for making suggestions yesterday that were discussed as part of the conversations around the terms of reference between Sir Patrick Coghlin, my officials and me. I also welcome the fact that there is a clear welcome from the SDLP for the route that I have chosen. It is absolutely essential, now that we are on the path of seeking the truth of RHI, having set up an inquiry and got a distinguished justice to lead it, that we make sure in the time ahead that every party supports that and does not interfere in the work of the inquiry.

In relation to the question asked, I want to speak in particular of the seven months that I have been in the Department of Finance. I have been deeply impressed by the commitment, diligence and alertness of my officials to the RHI scandal. I mentioned previously alerting the Comptroller and Auditor General. I want to again put on record my praise for him, which I mentioned — I became the first Minister since devolution to meet the Comptroller and Auditor General last week — and for his work in this regard.

It is important to explain this to the Member because there was a misunderstanding, I think, of the role of the Finance Department and the Finance Minister in regard to all other Departments. It is a long time since Mark Durkan was Finance Minister so perhaps the institutional memory of that is gone. The Department of Finance does not hold responsibility for total financial management of all expenditure, and I know that other Ministers are very glad of that. The Department of Finance does not hold responsibility for total financial management of all expenditure. Its critical role is to ensure that all Departments comply with the highest standards of accountability and governance as set out in the 'Managing Public Money' protocols. When those standards are breached, the Department of Finance has a duty to inform the Comptroller and Auditor General, as it did in the RHI case, which resulted in the irregular spend.